Destroying the myth that Jesus is a myth.

While some early twentieth century critics suggested that Jesus never existed, virtually no serious scholar holds that view today. The historical evidence is simply too strong. Nevertheless, one still encounters (usually on the internet) the idea that Jesus is a myth and there is no proof for Jesus’ existence outside the New Testament. This post counters that idea by familiarizing readers with the non-Christian sources that testify of Jesus’ existence as well as the faulty assumptions that accompany the “Jesus is a myth” idea. Jos manuscript latin

The clearest non-Christian evidence for Jesus comes from the first century Jewish historian Josephus. In his work, Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus mentions John the Baptist (Antiq. 18.116-9), Jesus (Antiq. 18.63-4), and Jesus’ brother James (Antiq. 20.200). While Josephus clearly refers to Jesus, there is debate about how much of the reference is authentic. Christians who preserved Josephus’ works (no doubt because of its historical value to the biblical time period) most likely added some accolades to the description of Jesus. Below is the quotation from Josephus, with the questionable portions in italics:

 Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, because the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the sect of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. (Antiq.18:63-64)

Even without the italicized portions, this passage corroborates many details about Jesus found in the Gospels. An argument also can be made that the “He was the Christ” portion is original, if read with a negative connotation. Josephus could have meant “he was the so-called Christ,” with Josephus expressing what some believed (though Josephus did not believe). This argument is more plausible considering how Josephus refers to Jesus in a later passage about Jesus’ brother James. The relevant section states that, “he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” (Antiq. 20.200). If the earlier passage does not originally contain the phrase about Jesus being the Christ or “so-called” Christ, this passage demonstrates Josephus’ (and perhaps his readers’) awareness of the claim. In total, Josephus corroborates that Jesus was considered a wise man and a miracle worker. He was killed under Pontius Pilate in consultation with the Jewish leaders and that Christ-ians bear his name—the Christ.

While Josephus focused on producing a history of the Jewish people for both a Jewish and Roman readership, Roman historians generally focused elsewhere. Judea was one small territory, far removed from Rome, in a vast empire. For this reason, it is not surprising that few references to Jesus exist in the literature of Rome. A religious figure making bold claims but executed after a couple years would not have been noteworthy to those in Rome. Nevertheless, the Roman historian Tacitus explicitly mentions Christ. In his Annals 15.44, Tacitus describes how Nero blamed Christians for the great Roman fire. Like Josephus, Tacitus explains that the name “Christian” comes from “Christ,” a person executed under Pontius Pilate during the time of Tiberius Caesar. While this execution slowed Christianity down, this “superstition” spread in Judea and eventually made its way to Rome. Tacitus’ view of Christianity is obviously not favorable, which makes his testimony about the life and death of Jesus Christ all the more credible.

Several other non-Christian writers refer to Jesus, but the above are the clearest. Some of the others include: The Roman historian Seutonius (Life of Nero 16.2) provides a vague reference to “Chrestus” that many scholars think refers to Jewish and Christian disagreement about the “Christ.” Similarly, the Syrian Stoic philosopher Mara Bar Sarapion mentions a “wise king” that the Jewish people rejected. To these passages one could add Pliny the Younger (Epistles 10.96-7), later passages in the Mishnah that describe Jesus as a miracle worker who led people astray, and a couple other indirect references.

While the above sources include only short remarks about Jesus and his followers, what they do say corroborates the fuller picture given in the New Testament. Those who claim no evidence outside the New Testament exists for Jesus are misinformed.

Being a stubborn sort, some skeptics still argue that if Jesus really existed, then there should be more non-Christian evidence other than the above few sources. However, this argument makes several false assumptions. 1) It fails to consider that any reference to Jesus in Roman sources is significant. As a point of comparison, Pontius Pilate is much more important than a crucified Jewish prophet from a Roman perspective. However, among the Roman historians, Pilate is only mentioned once—in the quote by Tacitus mentioned above (Bock, Studying the Historical Jesus, 46).  2) It is anachronistic to assume that just because Jesus is well-known today, he should have been well-known throughout the Roman empire. As mentioned above, Jesus was from the fringes of society and the empire. This fact makes Jesus’ presence in the above sources remarkable and argues that Jesus not only existed, but he made an unusual impact. 3) This argument totally ignores all the biblical material as if a collection of writings about Jesus from different authors could spontaneously sprout up without any historical anchor. While the New Testament material was written within a few decades of Jesus’ life, the same objection applies to all the other early Christian writings. It is historically implausible that a diverse body of literature connecting Jesus to a certain time and place was based on a complete fabrication.

The argument that Jesus never even existed is based on poor argumentation and an ignorance of the existing sources. Christians can confidently cite these sources and the New Testament as historical evidence that Jesus Christ lived a real life and died a real death.

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New Testament background: Messiah

While some of the cultural and religious developments between the testaments can be connected to a specific time frame within the second temple period, most gradually unfolded over the course of centuries.  In today’s post, we review a concept that went from being rarely mentioned in the Old Testament to appearing on virtually every page of the New Testament. I am referring to the “Messiah.”messiah

Between the testaments, the concept of the “Messiah” grew and developed significantly. The term “Messiah” was based on the Hebrew word for “anointed one.” In the OT, priests, kings, and prophets could be anointed as a testimony that God had set them apart for that role. Beyond this general concept of anointing leaders, some prophets looked forward to a Davidic king (presumably an “anointed one”) who would lead a restoration of Israel (Psalm 2; Isa 9:6-7; 11:1-10; Jer 23:5-6; 33:14-18; Ezek 34:23-26;37:24-28; Zech 12:7-10).

When we turn to the NT, the term “Messiah” (most often in its Greek form “Christ”) has taken on much more prominence and specificity. In fact, only pointing out one or two specific passages that use the term Messiah/Christ might be misleading since the term is used over 500 times! In addition to increased frequency, the concept of the Messiah has developed. The Messiah as described in the NT is assumed to be God’s chosen leader who would usher in the salvation and judgment of God at the eschatological climax of human history (DNTB, 698-705).

Given the historical and religious context, the development of the concept of Messiah was inevitable. The OT seeds of promise concerning a coming time of judgment and restoration under a Davidic king took root and grew in the soil of the second temple period. Despite a return to the Promised Land, the Jewish people still experienced hardship and oppression from foreign rulers. Even when Israel achieved a few decades of independence, the Hasmoneans meddled with the priesthood and eventually fell into infighting and Hellenization. Many Israelites felt like they were still spiritually in exile (Wright, People of God, 268-271). They increasingly desired a truly righteous Davidic king to usher in a time of greater renewal than what they had experienced—a renewal that matched, in depth and scale, what the prophets had predicted (see Isaiah 65-66; Jer 31). For this reason, the hope for a Messiah took on an increasingly eschatological edge. The Jewish people did not just want a newly anointed Jewish king (the Hasmonean kings proved they were not the answer), they wanted THE promised anointed one(s) who would usher in the eschatological renewal.

The centuries of reflection and growth of these OT seeds produce the ideas about the Messiah that we read about in the NT and in other second temple Jewish literature as well. Like the NT, the Dead Sea scrolls and OT Pseudepigrapha demonstrate a widespread hope in a righteous anointed one (usually a Davidic king, but sometimes a prophet/priest) who would lead Israel into the eschatological age (CD 2:10; 12:23-13:1; Psalms of Solomon 17-18; 1 Enoch 46-71). The NT writers everywhere and often assume that this widespread Jewish hope has been fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. The Gospel writers make the case for this assumption in various ways. John states that the purpose of his Gospel is so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ” (John 20:31), and the turning point of both Mark’s and Matthew’s Gospel occurs when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ (Matt 16:16; Mark 8:29). The assumption that Jesus is the Christ runs deep in the epistles. In fact, the name “Jesus” is coupled with the title “Christ” so often that it’s as if “Christ” has become a part of Jesus’ name (BDAG, 1091).

Jesus’ ministry and resurrection undoubtedly convinced the first followers that Jesus was the Messiah and caused them to develop further the concept of Messiah in light of Jesus’ ministry. For example, Jesus’ death connected to the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53, so the first disciples came to understand the Messiah as including this aspect. When readers come across the concept of Messiah in the NT, they are encountering a concept that not only developed in the centuries between the testaments, but a concept that was further developed in light of the person and work of Jesus – the Christ.

Take Courage in God’s Presence and Plan: An Exposition and Application of Haggai 2.

Today’s post includes the second installment of a recent sermon series on the book of Haggai. If you are looking for a short, expositional series, then Haggai can be covered in only two weeks. In the actual preaching, I added different illustrations and/or went deeper into certain areas based on the congregation. You can listen to the sermon series at: http://gracefortheway.org/sermons/series/the-book-of-haggai. If you listen and compare the written version below, you will see that any sermon notes or manuscripts are tools to organize a sermon. Just as the Spirit guides in the sermon preparation, the Spirit should guide the proclamation.

Life has so many twists and turns. We really should admit that for the most part we have no idea how things will turn out. Sometimes we are happy-surprised, sometimes we are disappointed-surprised. For instance, when the Star wars prequels came out, everyone was excited to get the back story of Darth Vader. Then right away we were hit with the disappointment that is Jar Jar Binks. Of course there are many more important things in life, which lead to even more profound disappointments: career plans that fall apart, a child who has walked away from the faith, a difficult marriage.  There are many things in life that take an unexpected and discouraging turn – that is the human condition, and the people of God are not immune.

 The people of God in Haggai’s day had to deal with discouragement. As discussed last time, God told the Israelites to rebuild the temple, and they actually started to do it! In Haggai 2 discouragement sets in. Before diving into Haggai 2, let’s quickly review the historical context. Continue reading

An exposition and application of Haggai 1. Prioritize God and his plan.

Today’s post includes the basic sermon manuscript from my recent sermon series on the book of Haggai. If you are looking for a short, expositional series, then Haggai can be covered in only two weeks. In the actual preaching, I added different illustrations and/or went deeper into certain areas based on the congregation. You can listen to the sermon series at: http://gracefortheway.org/sermons/series/the-book-of-haggai. If you listen and compare the written version below, you will see that any sermon notes or manuscripts are tools to organize a sermon. Just as the Spirit guides in the sermon preparation, the Spirit should guide the proclamation.

Intro: Valentine’s day was a couple weeks ago. After 21 years of marriage I still haven’t discovered the secret to making one’s spouse feel special and extra-loved on Valentine’s day. But I have discovered several things NOT to do. When your spouse says, “Today is a Valentine’s day, let’s go out tonight and have a nice dinner.” Do not reply, “I already went out for lunch with the guys, but I’ll bring you home leftovers; they’re really good.” It has only taken me 21 years to come to the amazing realization that my wife does not feel valued when I treat her like an afterthought. If you love and value someone, they are a priority.

That concept of love affecting priorities makes sense to most of us. However, we who say we love and value God very often give God what we have left over in time and resources. Sure, we will worship God—as long as nothing else is going on. Sure we will give our time and money to God—if we happen to have any leftover from spending it on other things. God’s children need a constant reminder to prioritize God and His plan; don’t give Him leftovers. This is the message that the prophet Haggai delivered to the Jewish people of his day. Because Haggai is unfamiliar to many, let me give you some historical context. Continue reading

A Holy City—The Final Reality of God’s Presence. (Study 12)

In study 11 we examined how the church experiences God’s indwelling presence through the Spirit. However, the church age is not the final stage of salvation history. At the end of time as we know it, God will restore what was lost in Eden and there will be a re-creation. The centerpiece of this re-creation will be the full glory presence of God with, and in, his people. sky

Series note: This is the final study in a twelve part series that examines the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.). You can find the first post in May 2016 with subsequent studies appearing about every other month.

Ask people about their expectations for “heaven,” and they are likely to focus on human desires and assume a disembodied existence. Many of these expectations do not cohere with what the Bible lays out concerning the final state of humanity.  The Bible speaks of a final, bodily resurrection to a renewed heavens and earth. Christ defeated sin and death through his sacrifice on the cross, but the final judgment is executed on sin, death, and Satan at the end of time. With the destruction of sin, God can be with people again as in Eden—no sacrifice for sin or buffer to God’s holiness is needed. No temple is needed. The people can experience God’s full glory and reality. While there are various passages about the final state throughout the Bible, the book of Revelation contains some of the most extensive descriptions. As we will see in the following passage, Jesus (often referred to as the Lamb in Revelation) is with God as the centerpiece of heaven.

 Scripture study and Discussion:

Revelation 21:1 – 22:5  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7 He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” 9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God. Her brilliance was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper. 12 It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. 13 There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. 14 And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. . . .  22 I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. 25 In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; 26 and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; 27 and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

22:1 Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, 2 in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; 4 they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever. (NAS)

This passage describes the final state, or “heaven.” It is a part of a vision given to John the Apostle when he was exiled on the island of Patmos.

What are some striking elements of this description? (Possible answers: There will be no temple because God and the lamb will be the temple [21:22]. The glory of God and the Lamb gives the new city light [21:23]. Nothing unclean or false will be there [21:27]. Revelation describes a river of life flowing from the throne [22:1]. The Tree of Life will be on either side of the river [22:2]. The curse will be gone [22:3]. We will see the face of the Lord [22:4].)

Let’s focus down on the fact there will be no temple. What reason is given for this New Jerusalem not having a temple? (Suggested answer: “The Lord God Almighty and the Lamb is its temple” [21:22].)

From what we have studied in previous posts in this series (studies 1-11), how can God himself be a temple? (Suggested answer: The temple is the gateway to God’s true presence in heaven. When God manifests himself, like at Bethel, that place is said to be a “house of God” because God’s presence is the primary requirement of a temple. If God is permanently present without any need for a buffer, then there is no need for a temple—God himself is there. The whole Holy city, all of restored creation, functions as a temple.)

From what we have studied in previous posts, why does it make sense that Jesus (the Lamb) himself will be included with God Almighty as being the temple? (Suggested answer: Jesus is the reality that stood behind all previous sacred places. If the temple as the gateway to God’s presence found fulfillment in Jesus, then of course Jesus’ glorified presence will be the temple in the final state.)

This passage in Revelation paints a picture of God’s glory filling all of restored creation (depicted as a Holy City). His presence permeates the Holy City, which consists of 12 gates that bear the names of the tribes of Israel (Rev 21:12) and 12 foundations that bear the names of the apostles (Rev 21:14); these names testify that God’s people are part of this city-temple.[i] The entire city has been built into the Holy of Holies.[ii] No temple is needed because God’s presence fills restored creation and the people of the Holy City who experience God intensively, unfiltered, and internally.

The World is covered with God’s Glory

From the first pages of Genesis, to God promising a blessing for all nations through Abraham, to the prophecies for a world-wide restoration, God’s plan was to bring his children back to full fellowship with himself. This full fellowship with God includes unfettered experience of the matchless glory that founded the universe. Jesus Christ will be center-stage with God Almighty at the climax of time when the world is full of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.[iii] The Spirit will adorn and bind God’s people into the community of oneness that is Father, Son, and Spirit. The glory presence of God will be internal, extensive, and unhindered by sin.

Does your perspective change knowing that God’s glory will one day fill creation? If so, how? (Possible answer: We are involved in a world-wide, eternal plan that is guaranteed by God. This gives me hope, desire to reach the nations, and a desire to be ready for that day.)

What does God and the Lamb’s unfiltered glory presence reveal about God’s character and his plan for his people? (Suggested Answers: God has plans to bless and restore his people. Even when people rebelled, God had a plan to restore them in Christ. God is love, so he gives eternal life in His presence to his people. Ultimately, God wants to share the perfect love, goodness, and glory of the Trinity with his restored creation).

 

Endnotes

[i] G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 1066-1071.

[ii] Grant Osborne, Revelation (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 759-761.

[iii] James M. Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 106. G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission.( New Studies in Biblical Theology 17. Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2004), 391-393.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From a Holy Place to a Holy Person to a Holy People. (Study 11)

Study 10 showed how John’s Gospel presented Jesus as the fulfillment of all previous sacred places. If Jesus was the fulfillment of these places, what happens now that Jesus has ascended into heaven? How are believers to experience the presence of God now? Moreover, how does God manifest his presence in the age to come? We will answer these questions in the next couple studies.

Study Series Note: This study is the eleventh in a series that examines the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.).  In today’s post, we will focus on how the Spirit of God dwells with his people today. In the exile God’s Spirit dwelled among his people, God now dwells in his people through the Holy Spirit.[i] God’s presence went from a place—the temple, to a person—Jesus. That presence now dwells in the people who trust in Jesus. Sometimes believers perceive the presence of the Spirit dwelling inside; sometimes they do not, but perception does not always match reality.

The Spirit of Truth Will be in You

Studies 8 and 9 introduced the exilic prophets and their predictions about God giving his people a new Spirit in the coming restoration. These prophecies are fulfilled through Christ, who establishes a restored and forgiven people of God—a people who are made holy by Christ’s sacrifice and can now be indwelt by the Spirit of God.dove

Because Jesus is the reality behind all sacred places, the Spirit would not only continue to manifest the Father’s presence; the Spirit would manifest Jesus’ presence after his ascension back to heaven. In this way, the people of God become a holy sanctuary of the triune God’s presence on earth.

In John 14:16-20 Jesus says:  16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

This passage is found in Jesus’ final dialogue with his disciples before he is crucified. Jesus prepares the disciples not only for his death, but for what his departure will mean for his followers.

What reassuring promises does Jesus give? (Possible answers: Jesus will send another Helper, the Spirit of truth who will be IN them. He will not leave them orphans. Because Jesus lives they will live. Jesus will be in the Father and IN them and they will be in him.)

If Jesus manifests God’s presence and is the reality behind sacred places, what does it mean for the Spirit to make Jesus’ presence known to his followers? (Possible answer: Jesus’ followers now become a people indwelt with God’s presence. God’s people become the temple.)

In verse 17, notice that the Spirit was with the disciples as they were with the Spirit-filled Christ, but after Jesus’ sacrificial death the Spirit will be sent to indwell them. Remember, Jesus is the reality that stands behind all biblical sacred places because he is the ultimate revelation of God’s presence to humanity. That ultimate revelation can continue to not only be with, but indwell, God’s people as the Spirit of God and Christ transform the hearts of believers. These believers are to bring Christ’s presence to the whole world until the end of the ages.

 

Built up into a Temple of God

Jesus restored a people for God not just from the Israelites, but from all nations (Gentiles). This expansion of God’s people was in keeping with God’s plan to bless all nations through the descendants of Abraham. Both Jews and Gentiles would be built up into a household and temple of God as the Spirit manifests Christ in God’s restored children. This point is made by the Apostle Paul in the book of Ephesians.

Ephesians 2:11-22: 11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands-12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Verses 11-17 describe the Gentiles being brought into the people of God through Christ’s sacrifice. What does the writer say about the Gentiles being brought into God’s people? (Possible answer: The Gentiles were strangers to God’s covenants and people [v.11-12]. They have been brought near to God by Christ’s blood [v. 13]. Through Christ’s sacrifice, all divisions between these two groups have been abolished to make one new and unified people of God [v.14-16]).

In verse 18, another reason for this new unity is given; what is it? (Possible Answer: Through Christ, both groups have access to the Father through the same Spirit).

Verses 19-22 use both household and temple imagery. The new messianic community is being built up into a household of God and his holy temple. Continuing with that building imagery, how is this new temple being built? (Possible Answer: It is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus is the cornerstone [v. 20]. The people seem to be parts, as they are “built together” into this dwelling [v. 22].)

Using repetition with variation for emphasis, verses 21-22 describe how believers constitute a new temple. In Christ, the cornerstone, the whole house is joined together and grows into a temple of the Lord. Both Jewish and Gentile believers are being built together into a dwelling place for God the Spirit. Christ, who manifests the divine presence of the heavenly temple, sends his Holy Spirit to his people. The Spirit of God indwells the people—making them the new temple. Gordon Fee explains, “Here is the ultimate fulfillment of the imagery of God’s presence, begun but lost in the Garden, restored in the tabernacle in Exodus 40 and in the temple in 1 Kings 8. It is God’s own presence among us that marks us off as the people of God . . .”[ii] John 14:16-20 stated the presence of God (and Christ) would indwell the people of God. This passage in Ephesians concurs. The divine presence that Christ embodied is still available in his new temple, the people of his church. The church, however, is not a building. The church is the people of God indwelt by the Spirit presence of God. God’s temple presence has gone from a place (tabernacle, temple) to a person (Christ), to a people.

How does the depiction of Christ’s followers here differ from common conceptions of the church? (Possible answer: Many people consider church a boring building to attend religious services. Here, the church is a diverse collection of different types of people who are unified in Christ and who experience the presence of God through the Spirit.)

When the Israelites visited the tabernacle or temple, they knew that God’s glory presence dwelled in the Holy of Holies. But as they stood before the sanctuary, do you think they, or the officiating priests, always felt God’s presence? (Possible answer: Probably not. Other than the times when God manifested his presence in the glory cloud, many Israelites would have believed God was present in the Most Holy Place, even though they could not perceive him. In the Bible, sometimes God manifests his presence in an obvious, earth-shaking way. At other times, people are unaware until God opens their eyes.)

If you are a Christian then sometimes you probably don’t feel indwelt by the Spirit of God. How can you make God’s presence a more experienced reality in your life? (Possible answers: Stop being a loner. Although the Spirit dwells in individuals, the Bible emphasizes the household aspect of the Spirit. In the new reconciled community the Spirit is experienced in and through the people. Since the apostles and prophets make up the foundation of the temple and Christ is the cornerstone, we experience life as a temple the more we are connected to Christ [prayer and worship] and the words of his messengers [prophets and apostles wrote scripture]).

Why does this passage keep emphasizing the centrality of Christ in the bringing together and building up this new household and temple of the Lord? (Possible answers: Christ’s sacrifice cleanses all people who believe in him, regardless of background, to make them holy for God’s presence. Jesus manifested God’s presence and sends the Spirit to continue to manifest the presence to believers [as John 14 described]. These believers then become a temple of the Spirit to bring God’s presence into the entire world. If we want to experience Christ’s presence more, we need to walk with him.)

What does God’s presence dwelling in his people reveal about God’s character and his plan for his people? (Possible Answers: God is loving and rescues his people for his family through Christ. He plans to have a close, heart transforming relationship with his people. His people are indwelt by his presence and they are to manifest his presence throughout their world and lives.)

 

END NOTES

[i] For a thorough discussion of this topic see: James Hamilton, God’s Indwelling Presence (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006).

[ii] Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 689. R. McKelvey, The New Temple: The Church in the New Testament (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), 179-180, speaking generally about the church as the new temple agrees: “The New Testament declares that God has fulfilled his word of promise made by the prophets and erected a new and more glorious temple. . . . God no longer dwells in a house with his people: he dwells in them; they are his temple.”

Review of Michael Horton’s “Rediscovering the Holy Spirit.”

With high levels of interest in the Holy Spirit, Michael Horton’s Rediscovering the Holy Spirit seeks to ground and re-integrate Christian pneumatology into historic Trinitarianism. horton HSIn the first chapter Horton states this purpose: “One of my central concerns in these chapters is to explore the Spirit’s distinctive role in every external work of the Godhead. The Spirit is neither ‘shy’ nor a freelance operator; his work is not merely supplemental to the creating and redeeming work of the Father in the Son but is integral to the divine drama from beginning to end. In short, I want to widen our vision of the Spirit’s work.”(16) Throughout his book, Horton pursues this purpose by examining the Spirit’s unity with the Father and Son alongside the Spirit’s distinctive role in all of the Triune God’s various works. While books about the Holy Spirit have multiplied recently, contemporary discussions have tended to depersonalize, compartmentalize, and unmoor the Spirit from the Trinity. For this reason, Horton’s contribution is timely and worth reading. Continue reading

A Christmas Play – Suing a Shepherd

Although this post is not typical for this blog, some churches may be looking for simple Christmas plays this time of year. Below is a simple one act and one scene play that I wrote, and my church performed last year. Because it is set in a courtroom, scripts can be put on the witness stand and the lawyers’ benches as a natural part of the scene.  Having scripts available reduces the number of rehearsals. We pulled this off with about three rehearsals. The scene set up is easy too since most churches already have a “courtroom” aesthetic and the pulpit can be the judge’s bench. Anyone is free to perform this play for non-profit purposes.

List of Characters: Bailiff, Judge “Judy”,  Plaintiff’s Lawyer, Plaintiff (Golda Digger), Defense Lawyer, Townspeople 1 & 2, Defendant (Mr. Shepherd), Bo Peep, Shepherd 2 (Mr. Pasteur).  (Note: there are some really small parts for more participation. One could combine townspeople 1 & 2 and give Shepherd 2’s lines to Bo Peep if necessary.)

 Stage set up: The stage area is set up like a courtroom. There should be a central, raised desk or podium for the judge and two small tables on the sides for the lawyers and their clients. Another podium should be situated to the judge’s left as a “witness stand.” angel-shepards

Performance Time: 15-20 minutes.  Only one scene and one act. Continue reading

Jesus Christ—the Fulfillment of all previous Sacred Places. Study 10.

All the history and temple theology that was covered in previous studies formed the background to Jewish beliefs in the first century. When Jesus of Nazareth began his public ministry around 30 C.E., he came to a people who carried assumptions and expectations concerning the temple. The first followers of Jesus incorporated these beliefs about the temple to describe and explain Jesus and his work. It may be helpful to review some of the assumptions and expectations concerning the temple that we covered in the previous studies. Some of those assumptions include: The temple was a gateway to God’s true heavenly presence. The tabernacle/temple was a way for God to manifest his glory presence to his people, a presence that began in the Garden of Eden. The temple was the place to offer sacrifice to maintain the covenant relationship with a holy God. Temple rituals were no substitute for a heart obedience to God, and God removed the temple when it became a mere religious/ritual token. In contrast to the destroyed temple, God would one day restore true worship among his people by giving them a new Spirit; through the Spirit, God could be present with his people no matter where they were located. Continue reading

Returning and Rebuilding after the Exile. Study 9.

Study Series Note: This study is the ninth in a series that examines the Bible’s sacred places (tabernacle, temple, etc.).  The previous study discussed the prophet Jeremiah’s warnings that empty ritual in the temple would bring about its destruction. This post discusses the rebuilding of the temple and the role of God’s Spirit presence in the restoration.

As the prophet Jeremiah predicted, the Babylonians destroyed the temple and deported the people of Jerusalem. This time in captivity was known as the “Exile.” The Exile had a profound effect on how the Jewish people viewed God’s presence and the temple. In particular, the concept of God’s Spirit gained greater prominence when describing God’s active presence among his people.flame Moreover, God’s Spirit would bring the needed heart restoration so that God’s glory could dwell closely with his people again.[i]

The Exile ended when the ascendant Persian empire allowed the Jewish people to return and rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. The Old Testament books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Haggai describe this rebuilding. The rebuilt temple is often referred to as the “second temple.” The second temple was much more modest than Solomon’s temple and the Holy of Holies lacked the Ark of the Covenant. For this and other reasons, many Jews maintained an emphasis on the Spirit as God’s presence among his people, even though the temple (the traditional place of God’s special presence) was rebuilt.[ii]

God’s Presence among his People

The Exile culminated with the destruction of the temple, but even before this event some Jews like Ezekiel were exiled to Babylon. From exile, Ezekiel predicted that the temple would be destroyed and the remaining Jews also would be sent into exile. Ezekiel (like Jeremiah) also spoke against those in Jerusalem who thought that they had a superior status because of their closeness to God’s presence in the temple. Ezekiel (chapter 11) would proclaim that the Jerusalemites had nothing to boast over the exiles.[iii] In fact, Ezekiel was granted a vision of God’s glory leaving the temple in response to Israel’s apostasy. Whether in exile or in Jerusalem, God would choose to be near those who followed him and stayed true to the covenant.

Scripture study and Discussion:

Ezekiel 11:14-16: 14 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying, 15 “Son of man, your brothers, your relatives, your fellow exiles and the whole house of Israel, all of them, are those to whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, ‘Go far from the LORD; this land has been given us as a possession.’ 16 Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, Though I had removed them far away among the nations and though I had scattered them among the countries, yet I was a sanctuary for them a little while in the countries where they had gone.”‘

These verses describe how those living in Jerusalem felt that God had removed the exiles from his presence (in the temple) to give the land to those whom he allowed to remain. But God’s presence was not confined to the temple nor was God done judging the nation. Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glory leaving the temple, and the temple’s eventual destruction, confirmed these truths.

How does the Lord respond in verse 16 to those who would say that the exiles were away from the sanctuary so that they were away from the Lord? (Suggested answer: By saying, “though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone” the Lord confirms that his presence has been with the exiles. The Lord, therefore, has been a sanctuary for them because the temple is really about God’s presence. The Jerusalemites can’t boast that they have the temple, especially since the temple was about to be destroyed anyway. The Lord was not done judging the nation, nor was he done bringing about an eventual restoration.)

Ezekiel 11:17-21: 17 “Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.”‘ 18 “When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it. 19 “And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God. 21 “But as for those whose hearts go after their detestable things and abominations, I will bring their conduct down on their heads,” declares the Lord GOD.

God’s plan is eventually to restore his people to the land. As these verses describe, however, the Lord is less concerned with the temple rituals and more concerned with a people that follow him from the heart.

What does God promise to do for his people in this restoration? (Suggested answer: He will give them a new spirit so that they live out covenant faithfulness from the heart. Note verses 19-20, “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”)

Despite God’s presence in the temple, his people are unfaithful to him and profane his holiness. Mere rituals in a temple do not honor God, but faithfulness from the heart is what God desires from his people. For true restoration to happen, God’s people need a heart transforming Spirit. God must work inside people and not merely inside the temple. This reality is highlighted in Ezekiel’s vision of the glory leaving the temple in the next verses.

Ezekiel 11:22-25: 22 Then the cherubim lifted up their wings with the wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered over them. 23 The glory of the LORD went up from the midst of the city and stood over the mountain which is east of the city. 24 And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God to the exiles in Chaldea. So the vision that I had seen left me. 25 Then I told the exiles all the things that the LORD had shown me.

The cherubim are part of the great throne chariot that carries God’s glory. Before his vision ends, Ezekiel sees God’s glory presence depart from the temple and the city.

In verse 16 God is a sanctuary to his people in a far-away land, but in these verses God’s glory presence leaves the sanctuary in Jerusalem. What do these contrasting verses reveal about God? (Suggested answer: God can choose to manifest his presence wherever and however he wants. God is more concerned with faithfulness than ritual, so God can be with Ezekiel in Babylon while departing from the sacred sanctuary in Jerusalem.)

This passage in Ezekiel further demonstrates that Yahweh’s presence is connected to, but not dependent on, the temple. Yahweh’s presence is not confined to his house, especially in the midst of a sinful people. This thought also leads into the future promise that Yahweh would again gather the people and restore the covenant relationship. This promise includes an implicit assurance of the return of the glory and an explicit promise of a new spirit within God’s people. When God’s Spirit of holiness indwells his people, the glory presence of the Lord will return. Ezekiel 43 predicts the return of the glory presence to a future temple.

Rebuilding the Temple

After 70 years the exile ended, but the people were still weak and discouraged when they returned to a ruined capital and temple. The concept that God could be present with his people apart from the temple actually encouraged the people to finish rebuilding. God was not impotent and absent without the temple; he was with them and continuing to work out his sovereign plan.

Haggai 2:1-9 On the twenty-first of the seventh month, the word of the LORD came by Haggai the prophet saying, 2 “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying, 3 ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? 4 ‘But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts. 5 ‘As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!’ 6 “For thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. 7 ‘I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts. 8 ‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts. 9 ‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and in this place I will give peace,’ declares the LORD of hosts.”

How is Haggai encouraging the people? (Suggested answer: He tells them that God is with them and that although things look bad now, greater things are yet to come.)

Through the prophet Haggai, the Lord encourages the exiles that he is with them. God doesn’t need a fully refurbished house to do his work, so the exiles are not separated from God during this difficult rebuild. Instead God has providentially set the stage for their return and he calls his people to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple knowing that God has a plan for a brilliant future where his glory will be manifested in an unprecedented manner. Notice the association in these verses between God’s presence, his Spirit, and his glory. God can be present with his people by way of his Spirit, and it is by his Spirit (remember Jeremiah and Ezekiel) that the inner heart restoration will take place. God’s glory presence in the temple and his Spirit presence among his people were both manifestations of the one true God. These concepts would develop in the following years and find full flowering in the teachings of Jesus.

Through the Exile, the Jewish people were reminded that God was not confined to a holy place. In fact, even in the midst of a prisoner of war camp or a ruined city, God could be a sanctuary for the exiles. How could this fact help you in a time of trouble? How could this spur you on to live all of life in God’s presence? (Possible answers: God is accessible to his people even in the midst of trouble, not just in sacred places. Because God is not confined to his house, we should not confine him to certain compartments of our lives. God desires a heart faithfulness that affects all of life. His Spirit is meant to permeate all that we do.)

 Epilogue and Christ Connection

Did God’s glory presence return to the second temple? Some later Jewish writings show that many had their doubts.[iv] What is certain is that inasmuch as the temple was the central sacred place of God’s people, God was there. In the centuries following the temple’s rebuilding, the priesthood became entangled in political intrigue and foreign influence. The corruption of the priesthood caused some Jewish sects (like those in Qumran who wrote the Dead Sea scrolls) to withdraw from temple worship. Other Jews never returned from exile. They remained dispersed throughout the world and distance prevented them from worshiping at the temple. Because of prophets like Ezekiel, these groups knew that God’s Spirit would dwell with those who were faithful. They chose, therefore, to follow Torah and seek God’s Spirit to bring the long awaited restoration for their community.

A couple decades before the birth of Jesus Christ, King Herod led a massive rebuilding project that increased the size and splendor of the temple so that it was even greater than the first temple. Nevertheless, the Holy of Holies remained empty and the ruling priests were largely puppets of the ruling Roman authorities. For these reasons many Jews still awaited the restoration of God’s people. Many believed that a Spirit-anointed Messiah would begin this restoration. In the midst of these hopes, Jesus began his ministry proclaiming that the kingdom of God had arrived (Mark 1:15).

End Notes

[i] A more thorough examination of the Spirit in the Old Testament can be found in Hildebrandt, Wilf. An Old Testament Theology of the Spirit of God. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995. An enlightening (even more academic) work on the Spirit in the OT is  Presence, Power and Promise: The Role of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament (Eds. David Firth and Paul Wegner; Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011).

[ii] For an in-depth examination of how God’s presence both in the temple and with his people became associated with the Holy Spirit, see Joseph R. Greene “The Spirit in the Temple: Bridging the Gap between Old Testament Absence and New Testament Assumption,” JETS 55 (2012): 717-742.

[iii] Daniel L Block, The Book of Ezekiel; Chapters 124 (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 350.

[iv] The second temple  literature is divided with some passages suggesting that Yahweh’s presence was no longer in the second temple (1 Macc 2:7–8; Sib. Or. 4:6–31; 2 Bar. 8:2; 64:7;  Josephus J.W. 6:300, Tacitus Hist. 5.13; CD 1:3; b. Yoma 21b) and other passages suggesting that he was present (2 Macc 2:5–8; 14:35–36; Sir 50:1; 3 Macc 2:16; Jub. 1:17). Davies gives further evidence of both in, G. I. Davies, “The Presence of God in the Second Temple and Rabbinic Doctrine” in Templum Amicitiae (ed. William Horbury; JSNTSup 48; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1991): 32–36.