“The Church of God”
The Deity of Christ
The church of which all Christians are to be a part is God’s church. Although many so-called Christians claim to be members of the church that God established nearly 2,000 years ago, they often wear names that indicate ownership by, or allegiance to, men (or offices of men). Some call themselves the “Lutheran Church” (after Martin Luther). Others call themselves after the designated local leaders of the church, e.g., Episcopalians (from the Greek word for bishop) and Presbyterians (from the Greek word for elder). The Scriptures, however, make clear that the church to which all of God’s children are to belong is not a church begun by man, owned by man, or called after man (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-17). Christians must accept the fact that the church of the New Testament is God’s church, not man’s.
Several times in the New Testament, the term “church” (Greek ekklesia) is linked together with the Greek term theos (God), and thus one easily can ascertain the fact that the church to which obedient believers belong is the church begun and owned by God. Paul wrote “to the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1, emp. added), and later commanded the Corinthians to “[g]ive no offense…to the church of God” (1 Corinthians 10:32-33, emp. added). He confessed to the churches of Galatia that he had “persecuted the church of God” before becoming a Christian (Galatians 1:13, emp. added). Paul also wrote to the Christians in Thessalonica, reminding them how they “became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea” (1 Thessalonians 2:14, emp. added), and even boasted of them “among the churches of God” for their endurance through persecution (2 Thessalonians 1:3-4, emp. added). One must not miss the point that the church of the New Testament is God’s church. It is of divine origin and established according to Deity’s “eternal purpose” (Ephesians 3:11).
Interestingly, Bible writers often refer to the “church of God” as the body or church of Christ. Near the end of his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul wrote: “All the churches of Christ greet you” (Romans 16:16, NASB, emp. added). He taught the Corinthian Christians how they were “members individually” of “the body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27, emp. added). Since Paul informed the churches at Ephesus and Colosse that “the church” is Christ’s “body” (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18,24), the body of Christ is equivalent to the church of Christ (cf. Ephesians 4:11-12). Simply put, it is Jesus’ church. He promised to build it (saying, “I will build My church”—Matthew 16:18, emp. added), and later purchased it “with His own blood” (Acts 20:28; cf. Ephesians 1:7,14; Hebrews 9:14).
These verses not only inform Christians of the names by which they should identify themselves, they also indicate something significant about the nature of Christ. Although some alleged Bible believers (e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses) claim that Jesus is not divine, the very fact that Bible writers equated “the church of God” with “the body/church of Christ” is one of the many proofs that Jesus is Divine. Paul consistently used these phrases interchangeably throughout his epistles. Thus, to say the church is Christ’s is to say the church is God’s, because Christ is God (John 1:1-3; 20:28). He is the head, Savior, redeemer, and owner of the church (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18). May we thus put ourselves under the subjection of Christ as God (Ephesians 5:24), and wear only scriptural names such as “church of God” or “church of Christ.” In the words of the apostle Paul to the Ephesian elders: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28, emp. added).
In Defense of Christ’s Deity
On Tuesday, prior to the Lord’s crucifixion the following Friday, Jesus engaged in a discussion with the Pharisees, who made no secret of their hatred for Him. When Matthew recorded the scene in his Gospel, he first commented on an earlier skirmish the Lord had with the Sadducees: “But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, gathered themselves together” (22:34).
Jesus—with penetrating logic and an incomparable knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures—had routed the Sadducees completely. No doubt the Pharisees thought they could do better. Yet they were about to endure the same embarrassing treatment.
In the midst of His discussion with the Pharisees, Jesus asked: “What think ye of the Christ? Whose son is he?” (Matthew 22:42). They were unable to answer the questions satisfactorily because their hypocrisy prevented them from comprehending both Jesus’ nature and His mission. The questions the Lord asked on that day, however, are ones that every rational, sane person must answer eventually.
The two questions were intended to raise the matter of Christ’s deity. The answers—had the Pharisees’ spiritual myopia not prevented them from responding correctly—were intended to confirm it. Today, these questions still raise the spectre of Christ’s identity. Who is Christ? Is He, as He claimed to be, the Son of God? Was He, as many around Him claimed, God incarnate? Is He, as the word “deity” implies, of divine nature and rank?
CHRIST AS A HISTORICAL FIGURE
The series of events that would lead to Jesus’ becoming the world’s best-known historical figure was to begin in first-century Palestine. There are four primary indicators of this fact. First, when Daniel was asked by king Nebuchadnezzar to interpret his wildly-imaginative dream, Daniel revealed that God would establish the Messianic kingdom during the time of the Roman Empire (viz., the fourth kingdom represented in the king’s dream; see Daniel 2:24-45). Roman domination of Palestine began in 63 B.C., and continued until A.D. 476. Second, the Christ was promised to come before “the scepter” departed from Judah (Genesis 49:10). Bible students recognize that this prophecy has reference to the Messiah (“Shiloh”) arriving before the Jews lost their national sovereignty and judicial power (the “scepter” of Genesis 49). Thus, Christ had to have come prior to the Jews’ losing their power to execute capital punishment (John 18:31). When Rome deposed Archelaus in A.D. 6, Coponius was installed as Judea’s first procurator. Interestingly, “the… procurator held the power of jurisdiction with regard to capital punishment” (Solomon, 1972, 13:117). Hence, Christ was predicted to come sometime prior to A.D. 6 (see also McDowell, 1972, pp. 176-178). Third, Daniel predicted that the Messiah would bring an end to “sacrifice and offering” before the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Daniel 9:24-27 and Matthew 24:15; see also Jackson, 1997). History records that the Temple was obliterated by Rome in A.D. 70. Fourth, the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea (Micah 5:2). It also is a matter of record that Jesus was born in Bethlehem while Palestine was under Roman rule, before Judah lost her judicial power, and before the destruction of Jerusalem (see also Matthew 2:3-6; Luke 2:2-6).
CHRIST IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
The Old and New Testaments portray a portrait of Christ that presents valuable evidence for the person desiring to answer the questions, “What think ye of the Christ?,” and “Whose son is he?” In Isaiah 7:14, for example, the prophet declared that a virgin would conceive, bear a son, and name him “Immanuel,” which means “God with us” (a prophecy that was fulfilled in the birth of Christ; Matthew 1:22-23). Later, Isaiah referred to this son as “Mighty God” (9:6). In fact, in the year that king Uzziah died, Isaiah said he saw “the Lord” sitting upon a throne (see Isaiah 6:1ff.). Overpowered by the scene, God’s servant exclaimed: “Woe is me,…for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts” (6:5). In the New Testament, John wrote: “These things said Isaiah, because he saw His [Christ’s] glory; and he spake of him” (John 12:41).
Isaiah urged God’s people to sanctify “Jehovah of hosts” (8:12-14), a command applied to Jesus by Peter (1 Peter 3:14-15). Furthermore, Isaiah’s “Jehovah” was to become a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (8:14), a description that New Testament writers applied to Christ (cf. Romans 9:33, 1 Peter 2:8). Isaiah foretold that John the Baptizer would prepare the way for the coming of Jehovah (40:3). It is well known that John was the forerunner of Christ (cf. Matthew 3:3, John 1:23).
Isaiah pictured Christ not only as a silent “lamb” (53:7), but as a man Who “a bruised reed will he not break, and a dimly burning wick will he not quench” (42:3; cf. Matthew 12:20). J.W. McGarvey explained the imagery in these verses as follows:
A bruised reed, barely strong enough to stand erect…a smoking flax (a lamp wick), its flame extinguished and its fire almost gone, fitly represent the sick, and lame, and blind who were brought to Jesus to be healed. …he would heal their bruises and fan their dying energies into a flame (1875, p. 106).
Other Old Testament writers illuminated Christ in their writings as well. The psalmist suggested He would be known as zealous for righteousness (Psalm 69:9), that He would be hated without cause (Psalm 22), and that He would triumph over death (Psalm 16:8-11). Daniel referred to His coming kingdom as one that would “stand forever” (12:44). The prophets’ portrait of Christ was intended not only to foreshadow His coming, but to make Him all the more visible to the people in New Testament times as well.
CHRIST IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The New Testament is equally explicit in its commentary regarding the Christ, and offers extensive corroboration of the Old Testament declarations concerning Him. The prophets had portrayed the Messiah’s demise as unjust, painful, and vicarious (Isaiah 53:4-6; Psalm 22). In the New Testament, Paul reiterated that fact (Romans 5:6-8). The prophets predicted that He would be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9) for a mere thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12), and He was (Luke 22:47-48; Matthew 26:15). They said that He would be mocked (Psalm 22:7-8), spat upon (Isaiah 50:6), numbered among common criminals (Isaiah 53:12), pierced through (Zechariah 12:10), and forsaken by God (cf. Psalm 22:1), and He was (Luke 23:35; Matthew 26:67; Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:27-28; John 19:37; John 20:25; Mark 15:34). Without any explanation, an inspired prophet predicted that the suffering servant’s hands and feet would be pierced (Psalm 22:16). Later revelation reveals the reason for such a statement: He was nailed to a cross (Luke 23:33).
The prophets had said that He would be raised from the dead so that He could sit upon the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7). This occurred, as Peter attested in his sermon on Pentecost following the resurrection (Acts 2:30). He would rule, not Judah, but the most powerful kingdom on Earth. As King, Christ was to rule (from heaven) the kingdom that “shall never be destroyed” and that “shall break in pieces and consume all these [earthly] kingdoms, and…shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44). The New Testament establishes the legitimacy of His kingdom (Colossians 1:13; 1 Corinthians 15:24-25). The subjects of this royal realm were to be from every nation on Earth (Isaiah 2:2), and were prophesied to enjoy a life of peace and harmony that ignores any and all human distinctions, prejudices, or biases (cf. Isaiah 2:4, Galatians 3:28). This King would be arrayed, not in the regal purple of a carnal king, but in the humble garments of a holy priest (Psalm 110:4; Hebrews 5:6). Like Melchizedek, the Messiah was to be both Priest and King (Genesis 14:18), guaranteeing that His subjects could approach God without the interference of a clergy class. Instead, as the New Testament affirms, Christians offer their petitions directly to God through their King—Who mediates on their behalf (cf. Matthew 6:9; John 14:13-14; 1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 10:12,19-22). It would be impossible for the New Testament writers to provide any clearer answers than they did to the questions that Christ asked the Pharisees.
CHRIST AS A MAN
The Scriptures teach that Jesus possessed two natures—divine and human. As an eternal Being (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2; John 1:1ff.), He was God; yet, He became man (1 Timothy 2:5), made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3), though without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Isaiah observed that Christ would be “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief ” Who would grow up “as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground” (Isaiah 53:2-3).
As a human, the prophets had said, Christ was to be the seed of woman (Genesis 3:15), and a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David (Genesis 22:18; 26:4; 28:14; 2 Samuel 7:12-13). The New Testament confirms that He was born of a woman (Galatians 4:4) who was a virgin (Matthew 1:23), and that He was the descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David (Matthew 1:1ff.). The apostle John stated that He had become flesh and had dwelt among men (John 1:14). Paul wrote that Christ was recognized “in fashion as a man” (Philippians 2:7-8). From his position as a physician, Luke wrote that Christ “advanced in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). He was able to learn (Hebrews 5:8). He experienced hunger (Matthew 4:2), thirst (John 19:28), weariness (John 4:6), anger (Mark 3:5), frustration (Mark 9:19), joy (John 15:11), sadness (John 11:35), and grief (Luke 19:41; Hebrews 5:7). He was “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). But most significantly, He was able to die (Mark 15:44). In every respect, He was as human as you and I, which is why He could, and did, refer to Himself as the “Son of Man” (see Matthew 1:20; 9:6; et al.).
But the impact He had on the world was not due to His physical appearance. In fact, Isaiah foretold that He would have “no form nor comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2). Rather, it was His nature and His character that made Him so intriguing, so commanding a figure, and so worthy of honor, respect, and worship. Here we see a man—but no mere man, for He is the only man who was virgin-born (Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:18), and upon whom the inspired prophets dared to apply the revered name of “Jehovah” (Isaiah 40:3).
Why do the Scriptures place importance upon the human nature of Christ? Wayne Jackson has suggested:
If Christ had not become a man, He could not have died. Deity, as pure Spirit-essence, possesses immortality (1 Tim. 6:16—the Greek word denotes deathlessness). The writer of Hebrews makes it wonderfully plain that Christ partook of “flesh and blood” that “through death he might bring to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). If Christ had not died, there would have been no atonement, no forgiveness of sins—the human family would have been hopelessly lost forever! Thank God for Christ’s humanity (1979, p. 66, emp. in orig.).
CHRIST AS GOD
The Scriptures do not speak of Christ as just a man, however. They also acknowledge His divine nature. In most of its occurrences, “Jehovah” is applied to the first person of the Godhead (i.e., the Father—Matthew 28:19). For example: “Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Psalm 110:1). Jesus later explained that this verse pictures the Father addressing the Christ (Luke 20:42).
Yet the name “Jehovah” also is used on occasion to refer to Christ. For example, Isaiah prophesied concerning the mission of John the Baptizer: “The voice of one that crieth, Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of Jehovah; make level in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3; cf. Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4). John was sent to prepare the way for Jesus Christ (John 1:29-34). But Isaiah said that John would prepare the way of Jehovah. Clearly, Jesus and Jehovah are the same.
The writer of Hebrews quoted the Father as addressing His Son in this way: “Thou, Lord [Jehovah—Psalm 102:25], in the beginning did lay the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thy hands” (Hebrews 1:10). Not only does this verse apply the word “Jehovah” to Jesus, but it actually attributes the quotation to the mouth of God. Again, Jesus and Jehovah are used synonymously.
Furthermore, Jesus spoke and acted like God. He affirmed that He was “one” with the Father (John 10:30). He forgave sins—a prerogative of God alone (Mark 2:5, 7). He accepted the worship of men (John 9:38) which is due only to God (Matthew 4:10), and which good angels (Revelation 22:8-9) and good men (Matthew 4:10) refuse.
In addition, Jesus is plainly called “God” a number of times within the New Testament. In John 1:1, regarding Him Who became flesh and dwelt among men (1:14), the Bible says: “the Word was God.” And in John 20:28, one of the disciples, Thomas, upon being confronted with empirical evidence for the Lord’s resurrection, proclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” Significantly, and appropriately, Christ accepted the designation. Additional passages that reveal Christ as God include Philippians 2:5ff., 2 Corinthians 4:4, Colossians 1:15, and many others.
CHOICES REGARDING CHRIST’S DEITY
When Jesus was put on trial before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high priest asked: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” To that question Christ replied simply, “I am” (Mark 14:62). In view of the exalted nature of such a claim, and its ultimate end results, there are but three possible views one may entertain in reference to Christ’s claim of being deity: (1) He was a liar and con-artist; (2) He was a madman; or (3) He was exactly Who He said He was.
In his book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell titled one chapter: “The Trilemma—Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?” His purpose was to point out that, considering the grandiose nature of Christ’s claims, He was either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord. McDowell introduced his chapter on Christ’s deity with a quotation from the famous British apologist of Cambridge University, C.S. Lewis, who wrote:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to (1952, pp. 40-41).
Was Christ a Liar?
Was Christ a liar? A charlatan? A “messianic manipulator”? Hugh J. Schonfield, in The Passover Plot, claimed that He was all three. Schonfield suggested that Jesus manipulated His life in such a way as to counterfeit the events described in the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. At times, this required “contriving those events when necessary, contending with friends and foes to ensure that the predictions would be fulfilled” (1965, p. 7). Schonfield charged that Jesus “plotted and schemed with the utmost skill and resourcefulness, sometimes making secret arrangements, taking advantage of every circumstance conducive to the attainment of his objectives” (p. 155). He further asserted that Jesus even planned to fake His own death on the cross. Unfortunately, however, Jesus had not counted on having a Roman soldier pierce His side with a spear. Thus, instead of recovering from His stupor, Jesus died unexpectedly. On Saturday night, His body was moved to a secret place so that His tomb would be empty on the next day, thus leaving the impression of His resurrection and, simultaneously, His deity (pp. 161,165).
But does this reconstruction of the life of Christ ring true? Even if a charlatan could beguile a few followers into believing that he had fulfilled a few of the prophecies (either by coincidence, or by contrivance), how could he possibly fulfill those that were beyond his control? For example, how could an impostor have planned his betrayal price? How could he have known that the money would be used to purchase the potter’s field (cf. Zechariah 11:13, Matthew 27:7)? How could he have known that men would gamble for his clothing (cf. Psalm 22:17-18, Matthew 27:35-36)? Yet these are just a sampling of the many prophecies over which he would have no control. Jesus, however, fulfilled every single one of them.
In considering the possibility that Christ was little more than an accomplished liar, renowned biblical historian, Philip Schaff, asked:
How in the name of logic, common sense, and experience, could an impostor that is a deceitful, selfish, depraved man—have invented, and consistently maintained from the beginning to end, the purest and noblest character known in history with the most perfect air of truth and reality? How could he have conceived and successfully carried out a plan of unparalleled beneficence, moral magnitude, and sublimity, and sacrificed his own life for it, in the face of the strongest prejudices of his people and ages? (1913, pp. 94-95).
Further, the question must be asked: What sane man is willing to die for what he knows all along is actually a lie? As McDowell summarized the matter: “Someone who lived as Jesus lived, taught as Jesus taught, and died as Jesus died could not have been a liar” (1972, p. 106).
Was Christ a Lunatic?
Was Jesus merely a psychotic lunatic Who sincerely (albeit mistakenly) viewed Himself as God incarnate? Such a view rarely has been entertained by anyone cognizant of Christ’s life and teachings. Schaff has asked:
Is such an intellect—clear as the sky, bracing as the mountain air, sharp and penetrating as a sword, thoroughly healthy and vigorous, always ready and always self-possessed—liable to a radical and most serious delusion concerning His own character and mission? Preposterous imagination! (1913, pp. 97-98).
Would a raving lunatic teach that we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us? Would a lunatic teach that we should pray for our enemies? Would a lunatic teach that we should “turn the other cheek,” and then set an example of exactly how to do that—even unto death? Would a lunatic present an ethical/moral code like the one found within the text of the Sermon on the Mount? Hardly! Lunacy of the sort ascribed to Christ by His detractors does not produce such genius. Schaff wrote:
Self-deception in a matter so momentous, and with an intellect in all respects so clear and so sound, is equally out of the question. How could He be an enthusiast or a madman who never lost the even balance of His mind, who sailed serenely over all the troubles and persecutions, as the sun above the clouds, who always returned the wisest answer to tempting questions, who calmly and deliberately predicted His death on the cross, His resurrection on the third day, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the founding of His Church, the destruction of Jerusalem—predictions which have been literally fulfilled? A character so original, so completely, so uniformly consistent, so perfect, so human and yet so high above all human greatness, can be neither a fraud nor a fiction. The poet, as has been well said, would be in this case greater than the hero. It would take more than a Jesus to invent a Jesus (1910, p. 109).
Was Christ Deity?
If Jesus was not a liar or a lunatic, then the questions Jesus asked the Pharisees still remain: “What think ye of the Christ? Whose son is He?” Was Jesus, in fact, exactly Who He claimed to be? Was He God incarnate? The evidence suggests that He was.
EVIDENCE FOR THE DEITY OF CHRIST
In Mark 10, an account is recorded concerning a rich young ruler who, in speaking to Christ, addressed Him as “Good Teacher.” Upon hearing this reference, Jesus asked the man: “Why callest thou me good? None is good, save one, even God” (Mark 10:17).
Was Christ suggesting that His countryman’s loyalty was misplaced, and that He was unworthy of being called “good” (in the sense that ultimately only God merits such a designation)? No. In fact, Christ was suggesting that He was worthy of the appellation. He wanted the ruler to understand the significance of the title he had used. R.C. Foster paraphrased Jesus’ response as follows: “Do you know the meaning of this word you apply to me and which you use so freely? There is none good save God; if you apply that term to me, and you understand what you mean, you affirm that I am God” (1971, p. 1022).
What evidence establishes Christ’s deity? Among other things, it includes Christ’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, His confirmation of His Sonship via the miracles He performed, His crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, and His post-resurrection appearances.
Fulfillment of O.T. Prophecies
Scholars have documented over 300 messianic prophecies in the Old Testament (Lockyer, 1973, p. 21). From Genesis through Malachi, the history of Jesus is foretold in minute detail. Bible critics who wish to disprove Christ’s deity, must refute fulfilled prophecy. To accomplish this, one would have to contend that Jesus did not fulfill the prophecies genuinely, but only appeared to fulfill them. Yet with over 300 prophecies relating to Christ—none of which can be dismissed flippantly—this is an impossible task.
Could Christ have fulfilled 300+ prophetic utterances by chance? P.W. Stoner and R.C. Newman selected just eight specific prophecies, and calculated the probability of one man fulfilling all of them. Their conclusion was that 1 man in 1017 could do it (1976, p. 106). The probability that a single man could fulfill—by chance—all of the prophecies relating to Christ and His ministry would be practically incalculable, and the idea that a single man did so would be utterly absurd.
Performance of Genuine Miracles
Christ also backed up His claims by working miracles. Throughout history, God had empowered other people to perform miracles. But while their miracles confirmed they were servants of God, Jesus’ miracles were intended to prove that He is God (John 10:37-38; cf. John 20:30-31).
While in prison, John the Baptizer sent his followers to ask Jesus: “Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another?” (Matthew 11:3). Jesus’ response was: “Go and tell John…the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them” (Matthew 11:4-5). Over seven hundred years earlier, Isaiah had predicted that those very things would be done by the Messiah (Isaiah 35:5-6; 61:1). Jesus was not saying simply: “Look at all the good things I am doing.” Rather, He was saying: “I am the One doing exactly what the Coming One is supposed to do!”
When Peter addressed the very people who had put Jesus to death, he reminded them that Christ’s unique identity had been proved “by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know” (Acts 2:22). The key phrase here is “even as ye yourselves know.” The Jews had witnessed Christ’s miracles occurring among them on practically a daily basis. And, unlike the pseudo-miracles allegedly performed by today’s “spiritualists,” Jesus’ miracles were feats that truly defied naturalistic explanation. In the presence of many witnesses, the Nazarene not only gave sight to the blind, healed lepers, fed thousands from a handful of food, and made the lame to walk, but also calmed turbulent seas and raised the dead! Although not overly eager to admit it, Jesus’ critics often were brought face-to-face with the truth that no one could do what Jesus did unless God was with Him (John 3:2; see also John 9).
The Resurrection, and Post-Resurrection Appearances
Likely, however, the most impressive miracle involving Jesus was His resurrection. In agreement with Old Testament prophecy, and just as He had promised, Christ came forth from the tomb three days after His brutal crucifixion (Matthew 16:21; 27:63; 28:1-8). His resurrection was witnessed by soldiers who had been appointed to guard His tomb. In the end, these soldiers had to be bribed to change their story, so that the Jewish leaders would not lose credibility, and to prevent the Jewish people from recognizing their true Messiah (Matthew 28:11-15). It is a matter of history that Christ’s tomb was empty on that Sunday morning almost 2,000 years ago. If Jesus were not raised from the dead, how came His guarded and sealed tomb to be empty?
That Christ had been raised from the dead was witnessed by many different types of people: the soldiers who guarded His tomb; the women who came early in the morning to anoint Him with spices; eleven apostles; and more than 500 other witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:4-8). When they saw the living, breathing Jesus—days after His death—they had concrete proof that He was Who He claimed to be all along! Even his detractors could not deny successfully the fact, and significance, of the empty tomb.
Thousands of people go annually to the graves of the founders of the Buddhist and Muslim religions to pay homage. Yet Christians do not pay homage at the grave of Christ—for the simple fact that the tomb is empty. A dead Savior is no good! For those who accept, and act upon, the evidence for Christ’s deity provided by the resurrection, life is meaningful, rich, and full (see Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 15). For those who reject the resurrection, the vacant tomb will stand forever as eternity’s greatest mystery, and one day will serve as their silent judge.
Who is Jesus of Nazareth? He had no formal rabbinical training (John 7:15). He possessed no material wealth (Luke 9:58; 2 Corinthians 8:9). Yet, through His teachings, He turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6). Clearly, as the evidence documents, He was, and is, both the Son of Man and the Son of God. He lived, and died, to redeem fallen mankind. He gave Himself a ransom (Matthew 20:28). He is God, Who predates, and will outlast, time itself (Philippians 2:5-11).
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Schaff, Philip (1910), History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Schaff, Philip (1913), The Person of Christ (New York: American Tract Society).
Schonfield, Hugh J. (1965), The Passover Plot (New York: Bantam).
Solomon, David (1972), “Procurator,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, ed. Cecil Roth (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing).
Stoner, Peter W. and Robert C. Newman (1976), Science Speaks (Chicago, IL: Moody), revised edition.
Jesus: Truly God and Truly Human
One day Jesus asked His friends, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” (Matthew 16:13). They gave a variety of answers: “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (vs. 14). Different people saw different things in Jesus. Herod heard about the miracles Jesus was performing and decided that He must be John the Baptist (whom he beheaded) raised from the dead (Mark 6:14). Others saw something in Jesus’ disposition that led them to believe He was the incarnation of the prophet Jeremiah (maybe they had seen Jesus weep and remembered how Jeremiah wept over the fall of Jerusalem). Still others had seen enough of Jesus to conclude He was the embodiment of one of the ancient prophets, although they were not sure which. This variety of answers reflects a level of confusion that seems surprising to us 2,000 years later. After all, they had the living, breathing, human person of Jesus to behold, and yet they still were confused. In the decades and centuries since, that confusion has not abated. A plethora of Christologies has been devised. Although there is great variety among them, generally they fall into three main categories: (1) Jesus was truly human, but not truly God; (2) Jesus was truly God, but not truly human; and (3) Jesus was both truly human and truly God.
In the second century, groups arose in the church that championed the first two categories. On the one hand, the Ebionites taught that Jesus was only a man who became the Christ by His perfect observance of the Law of Moses. On the other hand, the Docetics taught that Jesus was truly God in the flesh, but not really a human being; He only “seemed” to be a man. Both positions were opposed by the early church because neither was in agreement with the New Testament. The Ebionite heresy contradicted passages like John 1:1-14 and John 20:28, which emphasize the deity of Jesus. The Docetics’ position contradicted passages like Hebrews 4:15 and 1 John 1:1-3, which emphasize the humanity of Jesus.
Although these positions were rejected as heresies, they did not die completely. Nor did their rejection result in complete unanimity of opinion about the identity of Jesus. Confusion over how Jesus could be truly God and truly human at the same time persisted. The Catholic Church struggled with this question, which subsequently became the focus of some of its Ecumenical Councils. In A.D. 325 the Council of Nicea issued its creed, which stated:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten of his Father, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. By whom all things were made, both which be in heaven and in earth. Who for us men and for our salvation came down [from heaven] and was incarnate and was made man. He suffered and the third day he rose again, and ascended to heaven. And he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead… (Percival, 1899, p. 3).
So, it was the Council’s conviction that Jesus was both “very God” and “made man.” But how can the same person be both God and man? Nicea had not adequately answered this. It remained to be addressed by the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451). The 150 members of the Council declared that Jesus was one person with two natures.
…we teach with one voice that the Son [of God] and our Lord Jesus Christ is to be confessed as one and the same [Person], that he is perfect in Godhead and perfect in manhood, very God and very man, of a reasonable soul and [human] body consisting, consubstantial with the Father as touching his Godhead, and consubstantial with us as touching his manhood…. This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son [of God] must be confessed in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably [united], and that without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union… (Percival, 1899, pp. 264-265).
It is significant to note that the Council chose to clarify the meaning of the two natures in negative terms. In a sense, they, “put up four fences (without confusion, without change, without division, without separation) and said: The mystery lies within this area” (Runia, 1984, pp. 12-13). Although this confession did not really answer the question as to how Jesus could have both natures at the same time, it respected both aspects of Jesus’ identity and stood as the fundamental statement of Christology for Catholics and Protestants alike for many centuries.
THE IMPACT OF SKEPTICISM
With the rise of skepticism and deism, this ancient creed came under fire. Beginning with Hermann S. Reimarus (1694-1768), scholars began to suggest that the “historical Jesus” was a very different person from the “Christ of faith” described in the Gospels (and subsequent human creeds). Reimarus made a “sharp distinction between the intention of Jesus during his life and the intention of his disciples after his death” (see Borg, 1994, p. 42). Reimarus believed that Jesus’ intentions (rebellion against Rome) were thwarted by His death and that the disciples invented the resurrection story and deified their Teacher as a way of keeping His movement alive.
Liberal scholarship of the last 200 years has largely adopted as paradigmatic this distinction between the “historical Jesus” and the “Christ of Christian faith.” The claim is that the historical Jesus may be discovered in a fragmentary way by subjecting the Gospels to the rigors of the historical-critical method (see Brantley, 1994). The Christ of the Christian faith is the version of Jesus presented by the New Testament writers and the confessions of Christendom. Much of the recent discussion in Christology, then, centers on whether one should shape one’s understanding of Jesus by the Christ of faith or the Jesus of history.
Often, liberal scholars begin with the Jesus of history and move from there to decide what of the Christ of faith is worthy of belief (e.g., Edward Schillebeeckx, Piet Schoonenberg, Hans Kung, John A.T. Robinson, et al.). Typically the answer is, “not much.” This is also the presupposition behind the work of the Jesus Seminar (see Bromling, 1994), as well as works from a variety of authors (Marcus Borg, Barbara Thiering, Geza Vermes, John Dominic Crossan, et al.). A.N. Wilson’s popular book, Jesus: A Life, is typical. In it, he opened with this line: “The Jesus of history and the Christ of Faith are two separate beings, with very different stories” (1992, p. vii). Wilson rejected the latter, and wrote an entire book describing the former. His historical Jesus, however, “is a pale and distorted version of the real thing” (Wright, 1992, p. 63). Wilson described the Jesus of history as “the great apocalyptic prophet, the visionary teacher, the widely popular healer and exorcist” Whose life was a “total failure” and Whose “mission, whatever its original purpose may have been, ended on the Cross” (Wright, 1992, pp. 167-168). Wilson contended that Jesus never would have approved of Christianity; on the contrary, had Jesus known what would be done in His name, He probably would have wished He never had been born (pp. 255-256).
By way of summary, two hundred years of liberal scholastic inquiry into the question of the identity of Jesus have resulted, essentially, in a revival of the Ebionite heresy. The new portraits depict a Jesus Who is no more than a man and Who was nothing like the Christ preached by Paul and worshipped for nearly two millennia by faithful Christians. This is the price one pays for rejecting the verbal inspiration of Scripture.
COMING TO PETER’S CONCLUSION
Returning to Caesarea, however, we hear Jesus ask a second (and more personal) question: “But, who do you say that I am?” To this Peter boldly replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-16). In this one confession, Peter expressed two aspects of His Master’s identity. First, he said Jesus was the Messiah predicted by the ancient Jewish prophets (“Christ” is the Greek word for Messiah, meaning “anointed” by God). Second, he said Jesus possessed the divine nature. “Son of ” was the idiomatic way of saying that a person possessed the nature or traits of another person or thing. For instance, because Joses was an encouragement to others, the apostles called him Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). So, when Peter said Jesus was the “Son of God,” he was saying that Jesus had the very same nature as God. That was a powerful statement. Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God resulted in His death (John 5:18; Matthew 26:63-65). And it was upon this fundamental confession of the unique God/man nature of Jesus that the church was built (Matthew 16:18).
What led Peter to make that confession? The answer is found in Jesus’ reply: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is heaven” (vs. 17). Peter’s view of Jesus was based upon information provided by God, rather than upon the uncertain ideas of people. That information came to Peter in the form of Old Testament prophesies that he was beginning to see fulfilled in Jesus, and that were being confirmed by the miracles Jesus was performing. The same information has been preserved for all ages in the four Gospels, and will lead us to the same conclusion if we give it a fair hearing.
Unlike most people who have their biographies written after they are dead, much of Jesus’ life was reported hundreds of years before He was born. Over three hundred prophecies relating to the Lord were made in the Old Testament (Lockyer, 1973, p. 21). This number is astounding in itself. From Genesis to Malachi, the story of Jesus is foretold in minute detail (see Luke 24:27). Not only are the major facets of His life predicted, but seemingly trivial things (such as that men would gamble for His clothing—Psalm 22:18) also are foretold by the prophets. His family lineage and birthplace were predicted (cf. Genesis 21:12; Galatians 3:16; Matthew 1:1; 2:1; Micah 5:2). He died and was raised—exactly as had been predicted hundreds of years before (Isaiah 53; Psalm 16:8-11). By the word of prophecy He even was called Jehovah—the special name reserved only for God (Isaiah 40:3). The fulfillment of these prophecies by Jesus of Nazareth is powerful evidence that He was exactly Who Peter claimed He was.
In addition, it is important to recall that Jesus backed up His claims by working miracles. Although God empowered other people to perform miracles, Jesus’ miracles were different. Their works confirmed that they were servants of God; Jesus’ works proved He was one with God (John 10:37-38). The Gospel of John records several of those amazing works. John tells us why: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).
While imprisoned, John sent some of his followers to Jesus to ask, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3). Jesus responded: “Go tell John…the blind receive their sight and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached unto them” (Matthew 11:4-5). Over seven hundred years earlier, the prophet Isaiah predicted that those very things would be done by the Messiah (see Isaiah 35:5-6; 61:1). Jesus wasn’t merely saying, “Look at all the good things I am doing.” He was saying, “Look, I am doing exactly what the Coming One is supposed to do!”
Although not eager to admit it, Jesus’ critics were often brought face-to-face with the truth that no one could do what He did unless God was with Him (John 3:2). One example of this is seen in John 9, where it is recorded that Jesus gave sight to a man who had been born blind. Some of Christ’s enemies tried to deny that a miracle had occurred, but they were unsuccessful. Then they tried to draw attention away from the miracle by attacking Jesus’ character. They said to the man whom Jesus healed: “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner” (John 9:24). This plan did not succeed either. Notice how the man answered them:
Why this is a marvelous thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He has opened my eyes! Now we know that God hears not sinners; but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, He hears Him. Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing (John 9:30-33).
His point was the very thing the Pharisees were unwilling to accept—Jesus’ miraculous works supported His claim to be the Son of God! It is not surprising, then, that the man accepted Jesus as his Lord.
Just as He promised, Jesus came forth from the tomb three days after His brutal crucifixion (Matthew 16:21; 27:63; 28:1-8). That He had been raised from the dead was witnessed by many different types of people: the soldiers who guarded His tomb; the women who came early in the morning to anoint Him with spices; eleven apostles; and more than 500 other witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:4-8). Seeing the living, breathing Jesus again was concrete proof that He was all He claimed to be. Little wonder, then, that when Thomas saw the resurrected Jesus he exclaimed: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Christ’s resurrection was the central point of Peter and Paul’s preaching (see Acts 2:23-36; 3:15; 17:31; etc.). The reason is obvious—it was by the resurrection that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power” (Romans 1:4).
The evidence for the deity of Christ is both sufficient and compelling. There is a temptation, however, to emphasize the Lord’s deity to the exclusion of His humanity. In a sense, the modern church can become guilty of practical Doceticism. In other words, Christians can become so focused upon establishing that Jesus is the Son of God that they fail to acknowledge that He also is the Son of Man. Yet, time and again Jesus applied that term to Himself (e.g., Matthew 1:20; 9:6; et al.). As a human, He learned (Hebrews 5:8), became hungry (Matthew 4:2), experienced thirst (John 19:28), grew tired (John 4:6), and slept (Matthew 8:24). He felt anger (Mark 3:5), frustration (Mark 9:19), joy (John 15:11), and sadness (John 11:35). He was “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), and significantly, He was able to die (Mark 15:44). These human traits are as important to our understanding of the person of Jesus as are the traits He shared with deity.
Who is Jesus of Nazareth? Clearly, He is both the Son of God and the Son of Man. Like the ancient creeds tried to explain, Jesus is both truly God and truly human. We must avoid not only the error of the ancient Ebionites and modern liberals of seeing Jesus as merely a man, but we also must be on guard against the Docetic over-emphasis of Jesus’ deity. How can one person be both truly God and truly human? This is something we have not been called to understand fully—only to confess confidently.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made…. 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 1:1-3,14).
Borg, Marcus (1994), “Profiles in Scholarly Courage: Early Days of New Testament Criticism,” Bible Review, 10:40-45, October.
Brantley, Garry K. (1994), “Biblical Miracles: Fact or Fiction?,” Reason & Revelation, 14:33-38, May.
Bromling, Brad T. (1994), “A Look at the Jesus Seminar,” Reason & Revelation, 14:81-87, November.
Lockyer, Herbert (1973), All the Messianic Prophecies of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Percival, Henry R., ed. (1899), “The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church,” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1973 reprint).
Runia, Klaas (1984) The Present-Day Christological Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press).
Wilson, A.N. (1992), Jesus: A Life (New York: Fawcett Columbine).
Wright, N.T. (1992), Who Was Jesus? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks
Jesus Christ emphatically declared that the Old Testament Scriptures contained prophecies He would fulfill (Luke 24:27,44). Biblical scholars have catalogued more than 300 amazing prophecies that find precise fulfillment in the life and labor of the Son of God. One of these predictive declarations is found in Daniel 9:24-27, commonly referred to as the prophecy of “Daniel’s Seventy Weeks.” In this article, I would like to consider this important Old Testament oracle.
A proper analysis of Daniel 9:24ff. involves several factors. First, one should reflect upon the historical background out of which the prophetic utterance arose. Second, consideration should be given to the theological aspects of the Messiah’s work that are set forth in this passage. Third, the chronology of the prophecy must be noted carefully; it represents a prime example of the precision of divine prediction. Finally, one should contemplate the sobering judgment that was to be visited upon the Jewish nation in the wake of its rejection of the Christ. Let us give some attention to each of these issues.
THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT
Because of Israel’s apostasy, the prophet Jeremiah had foretold that the Jews would be delivered as captives to Babylon. In that foreign land they would be confined for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:12; 29:10). Sure enough, the prophet’s warnings proved accurate. The general period of the Babylonian confinement was seventy years (Daniel 9:2; 2 Chronicles 36:21; Zechariah 1:12; 7:5). But why was a seventy-year captivity decreed? Why not sixty, or eighty? There was a reason for this exact time frame.
The law of Moses had commanded the Israelites to acknowledge every seventh year as a sabbatical year. The ground was to lie at rest (Leviticus 25:1-7). Apparently, across the centuries Israel had ignored that divinely imposed regulation. In their pre-captivity history, there seems to be no example of their ever having honored the sabbath-year law. Thus, according to the testimony of one biblical writer, the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity was assigned “until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths” (2 Chronicles 36:21).
If each of the seventy captivity-years represented a violation of the sabbatical-year requirement (every seventh year), as 2 Chronicles 36:21 appears to suggest, this would indicate that Israel had neglected the divine injunction for approximately 490 years. The captivity era therefore looked backward upon five centuries of sinful neglect. At the same time, Daniel’s prophecy telescoped forward to a time—some 490 years into the future—when the “Anointed One” would “make an end of sins” (9:24). Daniel’s prophecy seems to mark a sort of “mid-way” point in the historical scheme of things.
In the first year of Darius, who had been appointed king over the realm of the Chaldeans (c. 538 B.C.), Daniel, reflecting upon the time span suggested by Jeremiah’s prophecies, calculated that the captivity period almost was over (9:1-2). He thus approached Jehovah in prayer. The prophet confessed his sins, and those of the nation as well. He petitioned Jehovah to turn away His wrath from Jerusalem, and permit the temple to be rebuilt (9:16-17). The Lord responded to Daniel’s prayer in a message delivered by the angel Gabriel (9:24-27). The house of God would be rebuilt. A more significant blessing would come, however, in the Person of the Anointed One (Christ), Who is greater than the temple (cf. Matthew 12:6). This prophecy was a delightful message of consolation to the despondent Hebrews in captivity.
THE MESSIAH’S MISSION
This exciting context sets forth the primary purpose of Christ’s mission to Earth. First, the Messiah would come to deal with the problem of human sin. He would “finish transgression,” make an “end of sins,” and effect “reconciliation for iniquity.” That theme is developed gloriously throughout the New Testament (see Matthew 1:21; 20:28; 26:28; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 1:4; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:20; 1 Peter 2:24; Revelation 1:5—passages that are but a fractional sampling of the New Testament references to this exalted topic).
The advent of Christ did not put an “end” to sin in the sense that wickedness was eradicated from the Earth. Rather, the work of the Savior was to introduce a system that could provide effectually and permanently a solution to the human sin predicament. This is one of the themes of the book of Hebrews. Jesus’ death was a “once-for-all” event (see Hebrews 9:26). The Lord never will have to return to the Earth to repeat the Calvary experience.
It is interesting to note that Daniel emphasized that the Anointed One would address the problems of “transgression,” “sin,” and “iniquity”—as if to suggest that the Lord is capable of dealing with evil in all of its hideous forms. Similarly, the prophet Isaiah, in the 53rd chapter of his narrative, revealed that the Messiah would sacrifice Himself for “transgression” (5, 8, 12), “sin” (10, 12), and “iniquity” (5, 6, 11).
It is worthy of mention at this point that Isaiah 53 frequently is quoted in the New Testament in conjunction with the Lord’s atoning work at the time of His first coming. Since Daniel 9:24ff. quite obviously has an identical thrust, it, too, must focus upon the Savior’s work at the cross, and not upon Jesus’ second coming—as is alleged by premillennialists.
Second, in addition to His redemptive work in connection with sin, Daniel showed that the Messiah would usher in an era of “everlasting righteousness.” This obviously is a reference to the Gospel dispensation. In the pages of the New Testament, Paul forcefully argued that Heaven’s plan for accounting man as “righteous” was made known “at this present season” (Roman 3:21-26) through the Gospel (Romans 1:16-17).
Third, the angel’s message suggested that as a result of the Messiah’s work, “vision and prophecy” would be sealed up. The Hebrew term denotes that which is brought to a “conclusion” or is finished (Gesenius, 1979, p. 315). It should be emphasized that the major burden of the Old Testament was to proclaim the coming of God’s Son. Peter declared that the prophets of ancient times heralded the “sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow them.” He affirmed that this message now is announced in the Gospel (1 Peter 1:10-12). Here is a crucial point. With the coming of the Savior to effect human redemption, and with the completion of the New Testament record which sets forth that message, the need for “vision and prophecy” became obsolete. As a result, “prophecy” (and other revelatory gifts) have “ceased” (see 1 Corinthians 13:8-13; Ephesians 4:11-16). There are no supernatural “visions” and “prophecies” being given by God in this age. [For further study, see Judisch (1978, Chapter 5), and Jackson (1990, pp. 114-124).]
Fourth, Daniel stated that the “most holy” would be anointed. What is the meaning of this expression? Dispensational premillennialists interpret this as a reference to the rebuilding of the Jewish temple during the so-called “millennium.” But the premillennial concept is not supported by the facts.
Any view that one adopts regarding this phraseology must be consistent with other biblical data. The expression “most holy” probably is an allusion to Christ Himself, and the “anointing” a reference to the Lord’s endowment with the Holy Spirit at the commencement of His ministry (Matthew 3:16; Acts 10:38). Consider the following factors. (1) While it is possible that the grammar can reflect a “most holy” thing or place (i.e., in a neuter form), it also can yield a masculine sense—“Most Holy One.” The immediate context tips the scales toward the masculine since the “anointed one, the prince” is mentioned in verse 25. (2) The “anointing” obviously belongs to the same time frame as the events previously mentioned, hence is associated with the Lord’s first coming, not the second one. (3) Thompson has observed that the act of anointing never was associated with the temple’s “most holy” place in the Old Testament (1950, p. 268). (4) Anointing was practiced in the Old Testament period as a rite of inauguration and consecration to the offices of prophet (1 Kings 19:16), priest (Exodus 28:41), and king (1 Samuel 10:1). Significantly, Christ functions in each of these roles (see Acts 3:20-23; Hebrews 3:1; Matthew 21:5). (5) The anointing of Jesus was foretold elsewhere in the Old Testament (Isaiah 61:1), and, in fact, the very title, “Christ,” means anointed.
Fifth, the Anointed One was to “make a firm covenant with many” (Daniel 9:27a, ASV). A better rendition would be: “Make a covenant firm….” The meaning seems to be: the Messiah’s covenant surely will remain firm, i.e., prevail, even though He is killed. The “covenant,” as E.J. Young observed, “is the covenant of grace wherein the Messiah, by His life and death, obtains salvation for His people” (1954, p. 679).
Sixth, as a result of Christ’s death, “the sacrifice and the oblation” would cease (9:27a). This is an allusion to the cessation of the Jewish sacrifices as a consequence of Jesus’ ultimate sacrificial offering at Golgotha. When the Lord died, the Mosaic law was “nailed to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). That “middle wall of partition” was abolished (Ephesians 2:13-17), and the “first covenant” was replaced by the “second” one (Hebrews 10:9-10). This was the “new covenant” of Jeremiah’s famous prophecy (Jeremiah 31:31-34; cf. Hebrews 8:7ff.), and was ratified by the blood of Jesus Himself (Matthew 26:28). This context is a rich depository of truth concerning the accomplishments of Christ by means of His redemptive work.
THE PROPHETIC CHRONOLOGY
The time element of this famous prophecy enabled the studious Hebrew to know when the promised Messiah would die for the sins of humanity. The chronology of this prophetic context involves three things: (a) a commencement point; (b) a duration period; and (c) a concluding event.
The beginning point was to coincide with a command to “restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” The time span between the starting point and the concluding event was specified as “seventy weeks.” This would be seventy weeks of seven days each—a total of 490 days. Each day was to represent a year in prophetic history. Most conservative scholars hold that the symbolism denotes a period of approximately 490 years (Payne, 1973, p. 383; Archer, 1964, p. 387; cf. RSV). Finally, the terminal event would be the “cutting off,” (i.e., the death) of the Anointed One (9:26). [NOTE: Actually, the chronology is divided into three segments, the total of which represents 486½ years. This would be the span between the command to restore Jerusalem, and the Messiah’s death.]
If one is able to determine the date of the commencement point of this prophecy, it then becomes a relatively simple matter to add to that the time-duration specified in the text, thus concluding the precise time when the Lord was to be slain. Let us therefore narrow our focus regarding this matter.
There are but three possible dates for the commencement of the seventy-week calendar. First, Zerubbabel led a group of Hebrews out of captivity in 536 B.C. This seems to be an unlikely beginning point, however, because 486 years from 536 B.C. would end at 50 B.C., which was eighty years prior to Jesus’ death. Second, Nehemiah led a band back to Canaan in 444 B.C. Is this the commencement point for computing the prophecy? Probably not, for 486 years after 444 B.C. ends at A.D. 42—a dozen years after the death of Christ. However, in 457 B.C., Ezra took a company from Babylon back to Jerusalem. Does this date work mathematically? Indeed. If one starts at 457 B.C., and goes forward for 486½ years, the resulting date is A.D. 30—the very year of Christ’s crucifixion! This is the common view (Scott, 1975, 5:364).
The strongest objection to this argument is the claim that Ezra issued no charge to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, and so the starting point of the prophecy could not date from the time of his return. Noted scholar Gleason Archer has responded to this allegation by affirming that Ezra’s commission:
…apparently included authority to restore and build the city of Jerusalem (as we may deduce from Ezra 7:6,7, and also 9:9, which states, “God…hath extended lovingkindness unto us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of God, and to repair the ruins thereof, and to give us a wall in Judea and in Jerusalem,” ASV). Even though Ezra did not actually succeed in accomplishing the rebuilding of the walls till Nehemiah arrived thirteen years later, it is logical to understand 457 B.C. as the terminus a quo for the decree predicted in Daniel 9:25 (1964, p. 387, emp. in orig.).
In “the midst” of the seventieth week, i.e., after the fulfillment of the 486½ years, the Anointed One was to be “cut off.” This is a reference to the death of Jesus. Isaiah similarly foretold that Christ would be “cut off out of the land of the living” (Isaiah 53:8).
But why are the “seventy weeks” of Daniel’s prophecy divided into three segments—seven weeks, 62 weeks, and the “midst” of one week? There was purpose in this breakdown. (1) The first division of “seven weeks” (literally, forty-nine years) covers that period of time during which the actual rebuilding of Jerusalem would be underway, following the Hebrews’ return to Palestine (9:25b). This was the answer to Daniel’s prayer (9:16). That reconstruction era was to be one of “troublous times.” The Jews’ enemies had harassed them in earlier days (see Ezra 4:1-6), and they continued to do so in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. [For further discussion of this circumstance, see Whitcomb (1962, p. 435).] (2) The second segment of sixty-two weeks (434 years), when added to the previous forty-nine, yields a total of 483 years. When this figure is computed from 457 B.C., it terminates at A.D. 26. This was the year of Jesus’ baptism and the beginning of His public ministry. (3) Finally, the “midst of the week” (3½ years) reflects the time of the Lord’s preaching ministry. This segment of the prophecy concludes in A.D. 30—the year of the Savior’s death.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF REJECTING CHRIST
No historical revisionism can alter the fact that the Lord Jesus was put to death by His own people, the Jews (John 1:11). This does not sanction any modern-day mistreatment of the Jewish people; it does, however, acknowledge that Israel, as a nation, suffered a serious consequence as a result of its role in the death of the Messiah.
Daniel’s prophecy depicted the Roman invasion of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Jewish temple. The prophet spoke of a certain “prince that shall come,” who would “destroy the city and the sanctuary” like an overwhelming flood (9:26b). All of this was “determined” (see 9:26b, 9:27b) by God because of the Jews’ rejection of His Son [Matthew 21:37-41; 22:1-7; see Young (1954, p. 679)].
The interpretation of this portion of the prophecy is beyond dispute. Jesus, in His Olivet discourse concerning the destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:1-34), talked about “the abomination of desolation, which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet” (24:15). The Lord was alluding to Daniel 9:27. The “abomination that makes desolate” was the Roman army, under its commander, Titus (“the prince”—9:26b), who vanquished Jerusalem in A.D. 70. [NOTE: The “prince” of verse 26a is not the same as the anointed “prince” of verse 25a. The “prince” of verse 26 comes after the anointed Prince has been cut off.]
The historical facts are these. In A.D. 66, the Jews, who were subject to Rome, revolted against the empire. This plunged the Hebrews into several years of bloody conflict with the Romans. Titus, son and successor of the famous Vespasian, overthrew the city of Jerusalem (after a five-month siege) in the summer of A.D. 70. The holy city was burned (cf. Matthew 22:7), and the “sanctuary” (temple) was demolished. Christ had informed His disciples that the day was coming when the Jews’ “house” would be left desolate (Matthew 23:38); indeed, not one stone would be left upon another (Matthew 24:2). Significantly, only one stone from that temple, and parts of another, have been identified positively by archaeologists (Frank, 1972, p. 249). J.N. Geldenhuys summarized this situation by noting that Titus
…overran the city with his army, destroyed and plundered the temple, and slew the Jews—men, women and children—by tens of thousands. When their lust for blood had been sated, the Romans carried off into captivity all the able-bodied remnant of the Jews (for they had done away with all the weaklings and the aged), so that not a single Jew was left alive in the city or its vicinity. Only on one day in the year—the day of remembrance of the destruction of the temple—were they allowed to mourn over the city from the neighboring hill-tops (1960, 3:141).
This event was referred to by Daniel as the “abomination of desolation” because the city of David was desolated by the Roman army—an abominable force because of its idolatrous fabric. It is not without considerable interest that apparently even the Jews recognized that the destruction of the Hebrew nation was a fulfillment of Daniel’s remarkable prophecy. Josephus, the Jewish historian, stated that “Daniel also wrote concerning the Roman government, and that our country should be made desolate by them” (Antiquities, X.XI.7).
Daniel’s inspired record regarding the “seventy weeks” is a profound demonstration of the validity of scriptural prophecy. It foretells the coming of the Messiah, and details His benevolent work. The prophecy pinpoints the very time of Jesus’ crucifixion. Finally, it reveals the disastrous consequences of rejecting the Son of God. How thankful we should be to Jehovah for providing this rich testimony.
[NOTE: For a more thorough analysis and refutation of the premillennial-dispensational view of Daniel 9:24ff., see my extended essay on this subject, available in the Apologetics Press Research Article Series.]
Archer, Gleason L. (1964), A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago: Moody).
Frank, Harry Thomas (1972), An Archaeological Companion to the Bible (London: SCM Press).
Geldenhuys, J. Norval (1960), “Luke,” The Biblical Expositor, ed. Carl F. H. Henry (Philadelphia, PA: Holman).
Gesenius, William (1979 reprint), Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Jackson, Wayne (1990), “Miracles,” Giving a Reason for Our Hope, ed. Winford Claiborne (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University).
Judisch, Douglas (1978), An Evaluation of Claims to the Charismatic Gifts (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Payne, J. Barton (1973), The Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy (New York: Harper & Row).
Scott, J.B. (1975), “Seventy Weeks,” Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Thompson, J.E.H. (1950 reprint), “Daniel,” The Pulpit Commentary, ed. H.D.M. Spence and Joseph Exell (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Whitcomb, John C., Jr. (1962), “Nehemiah,” The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody).
Young, Edward J. (1954), “Daniel,” The New Bible Commentary, ed. F. Davidson (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).