Tell Us Plainly!

The Jews therefore came round about him, and said unto him, “How long dost thou hold us in suspense? If thou art the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24).

The questions and the suspense had finally boiled over; a confrontation proved necessary. The Israelites wanted clarity. Is Jesus of Nazareth really claiming to be the Messiah? They wanted to hear Him tell them so plainly.

Jesus was yet again in Jerusalem, this time for Hanukkah or the Feast of Dedication, and He was walking in the Temple (John 10:22-23). The Jewish people of Jerusalem had heard Jesus teach them before and had heard of the many miracles which He wrought (John 5:1-10:21). Questions constantly surrounded Jesus and His teachings: is He the Christ? Do the rulers know this? Would the Christ do more miracles than Jesus had done? Is He mad? Yet what about His teachings (cf. John 7:26-27, 31, 10:19-21)? How Jesus was going about doing things led to more questions than answers, and the Jewish people could wait no longer. When they found Him at the Temple in Jerusalem, they confronted Him and asked Him pointedly: are you the Messiah, the Christ, the One God promised to send to redeem Israel? Yes or no? They wanted a plain answer. Was that too much to ask?

Jesus does not just say “yes” or “no”; He points out that He has given them plenty of reason to believe because of the works He has done (John 10:25). He then castigates those Israelites because they are not of His flock since they do not believe; the Jews pick up stones to stone Him because He made Himself out to be God (John 10:26-33). This seems to be a theme in John’s Gospel: some Jews who believe or who directly ask Jesus about who He is become those who pick up stones to stone Him for what they perceive to be blasphemy (cf. John 8:31-59).

Yet this interaction between Jesus and these Jewish people brings up a good question, one asked frequently about Jesus and the way He conducts Himself in the Gospels: why would Jesus not tell them plainly? Is He trying to hide something? If He is the Messiah, the Christ, would He not want all the people to know it and proclaim it upon the rooftops? Why does Jesus seem to be at least somewhat evasive or ambivalent about declaring His Messiahship clearly?

Such questions are understandable coming from us humans; we see things the way we see them and it is often hard for us to consider the matter from another perspective. But Jesus answers as He does and conducts Himself as He does for very good reasons that are sometimes easy to miss. In John 2:24-25 it is said that Jesus did not trust Himself to humans because He knew what humans were about. This is especially true with the question the Jewish people had: “are you the Christ?”

Jesus knew well what they meant by “the Christ”; they had particular expectations about what the Messiah would be and do. Based on their understanding of the prophets they looked forward to a Davidic descendant who would ride into Jerusalem in triumph, raise an army, defeat the pagan Roman forces, and inaugurate a renewed Davidic kingdom centered in Jerusalem. From this perspective we can understand the bafflement of the Jewish people when it came to Jesus; He was not about re-establishing a physical Davidic kingdom as in days past. The Romans were not even His real enemy! But we can also understand why Jesus could not have just simply said, “Yes, I am the Messiah,” for then the people would hail Him as king and attempt to force Him to become the Messiah of their desires and understanding. Yet God’s plan was not the plan of Israel; they had not put the message of the prophets together properly.

Jesus’ response is quite instructive. Jesus points His Jewish questioners back to the things He had done and how they bear witness to Jesus’ Messiahship (John 10:25). If they recognized that the true signs of the Messiah had been done by Jesus, they would have recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and would have adjusted their expectations and understanding of the Messiah’s mission and purpose accordingly. This is the direction in which Simon Peter and the Apostles head in John 6:67-69: they may not have full understanding of what is going on, but they have come to believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God who has the words of eternal life. Jesus’ message to the Jewish people may sound harsh but rings true: they are not of His flock, for they have not proven willing to set aside their expectations so as to be able to see what God is doing through Jesus, and as long as they cannot get past the expectation for all things to be done as they imagine they should, they will never be able to understand Jesus’ true identity and purpose (John 10:26-39).

To this day people frequently make similar demands of God or His people. They expect for God or His people to answer their questions simply and plainly and really are demanding for God and His work to conform to their perspective and expectations. For good reason it is rarely possible to give such questions easy “yes” or “no” answers; the very question itself or the way the question is phrased often belies a improper view or expectation of things. To this day people suffer from the same problem as those Jewish people did so long ago: they see things the way they see them, they have their expectations, and prove rather unwilling to question those assumptions and expectations. Yet whomever we are or whatever we believe we must recognize that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts, and therefore we must yield our expectations, perspective, and understanding to His (Isaiah 55:8-9). There are likely many things going on beyond our comprehension, either ever or at least for the time being, and so we are left with the same conundrum as the Jewish people experienced during Jesus’ ministry. Do we put our trust in Jesus of Nazareth on the basis of His works and teachings and in so doing radically revise our expectations of how God is working in the world, or do we continue to find reasons to doubt Jesus’ Messiahship because who He is and what He is doing does not make sense with everything we have ever heard?

At some point we all reach the point of divergence in the path, and we must choose whether we will trust in God or trust in our perception of things, or, as the Apostle Paul put it, whether we will walk by faith or by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). We can come to God and demand that He answer our questions plainly, but we should not expect that answer to be simple or the one we would like to hear. Instead we do better to entrust ourselves to God, confident that even though we may not be able to make sense of everything, He can and does. Let us trust in God in Christ and not ourselves!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Son of God

I will tell of the decree: YHWH said unto me, “Thou art my son; This day have I begotten thee” (Psalm 2:7).

Israel found itself in a good land that happened to be the crossroads of the ancient Near Eastern world. To that end Israel was surrounded by enemies: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, larger powers yet further away; Philistia, Phoenicia, Aram, Ammon, Moab, Edom, Amalek, Midian who might be a bit smaller but all quite near. Israel wanted a king to lead their armies onto the field (1 Samuel 8:20); as Israel grew in power and prestige in the days of David and Solomon, many among the nations would conspire against Israel and seek its downfall.

Yet Israel had a benefit not available to these other nations: their God YHWH was the One True God. The nations might rage against YHWH and the anointed king of Israel, and seek to break free from Israelite control, yet YHWH laughts at such designs (Psalm 2:1-4). YHWH in His anger will let the nations know of the decree: the king of Israel is God’s chosen man, adopted as a son, and he will have the strength to break the nations and keep them under subjection (Psalm 2:5-9). The kings and the people of the nations would do well to heed wisdom, serve YHWH with fear, and give proper respect to the king of Israel whom He anointed (Psalm 2:10-12).

In the days of the United Monarchy of David and Solomon the second Psalm would have been a triumphant proclamation in Israel, accurately presenting the state of affairs. David and Solomon, both anointed kings, sat on the throne in succession (1 Samuel 16:12-13, 1 Kings 1:39). God loved both men, and in the ancient Near Eastern world kings were understood to have a special relationship with the divine, and could be seen as (adopted) sons of God (1 Samuel 13:14, 2 Samuel 12:24-25). YHWH had given David victory over all his foes and Solomon peace in his days (2 Samuel 8:1-18, 1 Kings 4:20-25). Thus the nations should have heeded YHWH, respected the King of Israel, and bring relevant tribute.

In the days of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah there were times when the nations were subject to either Israel or Judah but also plenty of instances when the nations rebelled, and often successfully, from Israelite or Judahite rule (e.g. 2 Kings 1:1, 8:20-22). Since Israel and Judah forsook YHWH, YHWH allowed the nations first to rebel, and then despoil, and ultimately destroy both kingdoms (2 Kings 17:1-23, 24:1-25:21). If Israel looked back to the glory days of the past, the second psalm would seem bitter; many looked forward to a day when the nations would learn again that YHWH was God over Israel and they were a force with which to be reckoned.

After the exile Israel understood the second Psalm to be Messianic and waited for YHWH to send His Anointed King to again rule over Israel and the nations. As Israel suffered under the yoke of the Persians, Ptolemies, Seleucids, and Romans in turn, their yearning for the fulfillment of the second Psalm would only grow greater and deeper.

When Jesus of Nazareth ministered among the Israelites there was some excitement about whether He could be the one concerning whom God had spoken. In the end Israelites called Him the “Son of God” in accusation or mockery: He claimed to be so, in their view falsely, and they would only “believe” in Him if He did what they expected their king to do: defeat the Romans and the other nations (cf. Matthew 26:63, 27:40, 43). He did not act according to their expectations, and so they kept looking for another. Within forty years Israel would lose their city and their Temple; they were in a worse place than before. Some in physical Israel still look for the king of the second Psalm to come.

Yet there remained many in Israel, and a growing number among the nations, who confessed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God. Whereas kings like David or Solomon were not actually sons of God, Christians claimed that Jesus was actually the Son of God: God in the flesh, the imprint of the divine character, the fulness of God in bodily form (John 1:1, 14, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3). They quoted Psalm 2:7 in terms of Jesus (Acts 13:33). In their view the nations did rage against YHWH and His Christ, and one of those nations was physical Israel itself (Acts 4:23-31)! How could this be?

Israel expected the coming King to be like the kings of the past. Yet God was doing something greater with His Son. Previous kings defeated the nations, but the nations were still around and did not give YHWH the glory. Through His Son God overcame the forces of spiritual darkness that empowered the rage of the nations (Ephesians 6:10-18, Colossians 2:14-15, Revelation 12:1-14:20). God granted His Son authority over heaven and earth just as had been promised (Psalm 2:8-9). People near and far from all sorts of nations came to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and to confess His name (Colossians 1:5-6).

Yet how can Jesus be the Son of God? The Apostle Paul focused on the idea that on “this day” God “begat” His Son in Psalm 2:7 and connected it to the resurrection: by raising Jesus from the dead on the third day, God declares Jesus the Son of God in power (Acts 13:30-34, Romans 1:3-4). The Apostle John frequently affirms Jesus as the “only begotten” Son of God (John 1:18, 3:16, 18). In past times many emphasized that Jesus was “begotten not made”: however the Son proceeded from the Father, He was not a created being. Just as humans beget humans but create other things, so God “begets” God, but creates other things. Whether “only begotten” (Greek monogenes) means that the Son is actually begotten of the Father or whether it is a way of speaking of uniqueness in relationship is a matter of discussion and dispute to this day. Regardless Jesus remains God the Word, fully God, co-eternal with the Father and the Spirit, and active in the creation (John 1:1-14).

Israel had some good days with an anointed king, but they did not last, and they would never come in the same way again. God through David was pointing forward to the actual Son of God, manifest in the flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, who would overcome sin and death through His death and resurrection, thus be declared the Son of God in power, and given authority over all the nations for all time. Rome has fallen; so have a hundred other kingdoms; yet Jesus remains Lord. Let us confess that Jesus is the Son of God to the praise of God the Father, put our trust in Him, and be His obedient servants!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Signet Ring

And the word of the LORD came the second time unto Haggai in the four and twentieth day of the month, saying,
“Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying,
‘I will shake the heavens and the earth; and I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms; and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother.’
‘In that day,’ saith the LORD of hosts, ‘will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel,’ saith the LORD, ‘and will make thee as a signet; for I have chosen thee,’ saith the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:20-23).

The late sixth century BCE was a perilous time in Judah.

The Persians had allowed the Jews to return to their land; the Jews, through the encouragement of the word of the LORD through Haggai and Zechariah, had rebuilt the Temple (Ezra 5:1-6:22). Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel, son of Jeconiah (also known as Jehoiachin, one of the final kings of Judah before the exile), was governor of Judea (cf. 2 Kings 24:6-16, 25:27-30, 1 Chronicles 3:17, Haggai 1:1).

And yet things were not entirely right. The Persians ruled over the land of Judea. The Jews did not govern themselves. Their taxes went to provide for a foreign king and a foreign army, one that might oppress and persecute them at any time. Sure, they were back in their homeland, but it also still seemed as if many of God’s promises of restoration were yet to be fulfilled.

Zerubbabel represented a great hope. The author of 1/2 Kings ends his chronicle with the elevation of Zerubbabel’s grandfather Jehoiachin out of prison and in the midst of Evil-merodach king of Babylon (2 Kings 25:27-30), no doubt nourishing the hope of the reinstatement of the Davidic dynastic monarchy in Judah. And, behold, Zerubbabel is now in charge of Judah! No doubt many secretly (or less than secretly) wished for Zerubbabel to rule as his grandfather and more distant ancestors ruled. Haggai does talk about the overthrowing of kingdoms when God shakes the earth and Zerubbabel as His signet ring. We can certainly understand the hope and expectation of the Jews.

But it was not to be that way: the Persians themselves were well aware of Zerubbabel’s ancestry, and we do not get the impression that Zerubbabel acts or presumes in any way to seek independence from Persia and to re-establish the Davidic monarchy. Haggai and Zerubbabel will both pass away, and Judah is still under the control of the Persians.

Yet Haggai did not prophesy falsely. In fact, Haggai’s prophecy is of the greatest importance, not just to the Jews and Judah, but to all mankind as well.

Jehoiachin, also known as Jeconiah or Coniah, was not one of the good kings. In fact, Jeremiah roundly condemns and denounces him as a terrible king in Jeremiah 22:1-30. We must note Jeremiah’s specific prophecy in Jeremiah 22:24-30: Jeconiah will be cast out of his land and will die in another land, will not prosper, nor will any of his descendants prosper, and will no longer sit on the throne of David. Of particular significance is the image in Jeremiah 22:24-25: the LORD says that if Jeconiah were a signet ring on His hand, He would cast it off and give it over to those who seek his life, Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians!

A signet ring is of great importance for a king: it is a mark of his authority. The signet ring would be used to make impressions in clay to demonstrate that the king had authorized a decree or message, as can be seen in Daniel 6:17 when Darius king of Persia seals the stone in front of the cave in which Daniel has been thrown with his signet ring. If Jeconiah is God’s form of authority in the land of Judah, he will be cast off and given over to his enemies, and will no longer have that authority. As God’s decree in Jeremiah 22:24-30 stands, no descendant of Jeconiah will sit on the throne of David, and in many respects that is precisely what happens: none of Jeconiah’s children sat on the throne of David. When Jeconiah was taken away, his uncle Mattaniah was made king over Judah as Zedekiah (2 Kings 24:17-20), and Zedekiah would be the last descendant of David to sit on a throne in Jerusalem and rule over the physical nation of Judah (cf. 2 Kings 25:1-21).

God was in the right to be angry with Jeconiah. Yet Jeconiah’s grandson Zerubbabel finds favor in the eyes of God, and this is what makes Haggai 2:20-23 so important: God chooses Zerubbabel and will make him as a signet, a sign of authority. Consequences remain for the troubles of the past; Zerubbabel will not be king and will only have authority because it is granted by a foreign power. But the promise Haggai makes is of great importance, less for Zerubbabel, and far more for a later generation.

Ten generations after Zerubbabel, a man named Joseph is born in his lineage. Joseph will be supposed to be the father of one Jesus of Nazareth, who will claim Davidic heritage through Joseph, Zerubbabel, and Jeconiah (Matthew 1:11-16). If Jeremiah’s curse upon Jeconiah’s descendants continued to stand fully, then Jesus would have been disqualified on account of this lineage. To this day, in fact, some, especially among Jewish people, will argue that Jesus of Nazareth could not be the Messiah since He is a son of David through Jeconiah.

Yet this is when we see why Haggai’s prophecy is so important. Jesus can be the Branch of David and rule over a great Kingdom because God again chose His great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Zerubbabel as a signet ring. And through Jesus God did shake the world, and destroyed the strength of the kingdoms of the nations (cf. Matthew 27:51, Acts 2:16-20, Revelation 6:12-17). Jesus would reign over a Kingdom above all kingdoms, one that would never end, featuring servants from all nations (cf. Daniel 2:44, 7:13-14, Luke 1:31-33)!

Jesus, through His life, death, and resurrection, was given all authority in heaven and on earth, and thus sat on the throne of His father David and rules over the people of God for all time (cf. Matthew 28:18-20, Luke 1:31-33). Because Jeconiah sinned the physical throne was taken from his descendants; yet, since Zerubbabel served the LORD, God chose him, and we all can be the beneficiaries of that choice through Jesus. Let us praise God for His provision for all of us, and serve Jesus as the Risen Lord!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Good Confession

Fight the good fight of the faith, lay hold on the life eternal, whereunto thou wast called, and didst confess the good confession in the sight of many witnesses. I charge thee in the sight of God, who giveth life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession; that thou keep the commandment, without spot, without reproach, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 6:12-14).

Confession is one of those concepts that many people think they understand but often miss different aspects of what is involved. Most of the time, when we think of confession, we think of someone making known their transgressions. We might imagine a criminal confessing his crimes before a police officer or judge, or a person declaring their sins before God.

The Greek word for “confession” is homologeo; its parts literally mean “to speak the same thing (as),” and thus a confession or profession. It is used in passages like 1 John 1:9 to describe confession of sin, but it also maintains another powerful meaning in the New Testament, as we see in 1 Timothy 6:12-14: the “good confession” of Jesus and Timothy.

What is the “good confession” of which Paul speaks? In the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus does not say much to Pilate, save “Thou sayest” as a response to the question of whether He was the King of the Jews (Matthew 27:11/Mark 15:2/Luke 23:3). Jesus’ statement is not meant as disrespect; in Greek a statement and a question feature most of the same words with vocal inflection marking the difference between the two. Jesus declares the substance of Pilate’s words to be true.

John reveals a more substantive conversation between Pilate and Jesus. In John’s account Jesus declares that He has a kingdom, and it is not of this world (John 18:36); He is a King, and He has come to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37). In any event, Pilate’s inscription placed above Jesus, declaring Him the King of the Jews, makes it clear that there was little ambiguity involved (John 19:19). Before Pilate Jesus declared that He was a King, the King of the Jews; to any observant Jew, this meant that before the Roman authorities Jesus claimed to be the descendant of David, the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ.

Therefore, Jesus as the Messiah is the good confession which Jesus made before Pilate. Early Christians insisted on every believer making a similar confession before others: many ancient versions record the Ethiopian eunuch doing so (Acts 8:37), Paul speaks about it to the Romans (Romans 10:9-10), the Hebrew author has something similar in mind (Hebrews 3:1, 4:14, 10:23), and Paul here speaks of Timothy’s confession (1 Timothy 6:12-14). As Jesus confessed His identity before Pilate, so believers are to confess Jesus’ identity before others as well.

This confession is not the confession of sin or that one is a sinner; this is “speaking the same thing” as Jesus before Pilate, that He is the Christ, the Son of God (cf. Matthew 16:16). As Jesus spoke His confession before Pilate, so we are to speak our confession before others.

Today this does not seem very controversial or challenging for most people; very few of us have endangered ourselves to any degree by declaring that Jesus is the Christ, especially when doing so before other Christians. Nevertheless, in the first days of Christianity, as well as in some places around the globe to this very day, to declare Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, could easily lead to arrest, torture, and death. For generations many Christians have bravely declared Jesus’ Lordship in the face of oppression and tyranny to the point of death. We should all maintain that level of boldness in faith if we are called upon to do so (cf. 1 John 3:16).

Yet it is evident from what Paul is saying– as well as the Hebrew author’s use of the idea of confession– that there is more to this than merely declaring before other Christians that Jesus is Lord. The expectation is for all of us that what we declare orally we believe firmly in our hearts and minds. All we may say in our confession is, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.” Yet how much is really said in such a confession! If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, such demands that we trust in Jesus as Christ. It demands that we adhere to the teachings of Christ of which we learn in Scripture from the Apostles. This adherence to the teaching is not merely an intellectual exercise; it must be practiced, observable by all.

We have good reason to believe that Timothy’s confession took place over twenty years before Paul discusses it in 1 Timothy; a similar period of time (or perhaps even longer) is true for the Hebrew Christians to whom the Hebrew author writes. Their confession was something they were expected to remember; it was part of the moment in which they committed to the cause of Christ. Timothy declared before others that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; it is right for Paul to remind him of that declaration in terms of encouraging him to fight the good fight of faith, to hold firm to the commandment, and to continue to take hold of eternal life.

Merely declaring Jesus as the Christ means precious little, as Matthew 7:21-23 and James 2:19 attest. Instead, we must make the good confession of Jesus as Christ as a statement of confidence and trust, one whose implications we seek to work out throughout the rest of our lives. By confessing Jesus as the Christ, we confess our allegiance to Him and to His standard; by confessing Jesus as the Christ, we confess that we seek to be Christians striving to fight the good fight of faith, keeping His commandments, seeking to lay hold of eternal life. The good confession is as much a call to action and rallying cry as much as the declaration of Jesus’ identity. Let us make the good confession and make good on that confession throughout our lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Messiah: King and Priest

The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent: “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4).

It is important for us to remember that while “Jesus Christ” is used as a name today, it was not always so. His name was Jesus. His title, or His office, is that of Christ– the Messiah. Both words (“Christ” is Greek; “Messiah” from the Hebrew) mean “Anointed One.” David was anointed by Samuel as God’s choice for King of Israel (1 Samuel 16:12-13); his promised Descendant would thus also be anointed (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:17-21). But Aaron, the High Priest, was also anointed by Moses to reach his office (Exodus 30:30, etc.). The image of the two “anointed ones,” one king, one priest, seems to be behind Zechariah 4:11-14. It also seems to have impacted the author of the Damascus Document, writing within the hundred years before Jesus, who seems to speak of two Messiahs– one of Aaron, one for Israel (CD 9b:10, 29, 15:4, 18:7).

It seems that most Israelites in the first century looked forward to the Messiah who would come as king to defeat the Romans and re-establish the glory and power of Israel. Not a few Israelites also sought some kind of divine reformation and restoration of the priesthood and the Temple, imagined by some as a “Messiah from Aaron.” But there does not seem to be the expectation that the Messiah in the line of David would have the concern for ministry or the priesthood that belonged to the Aaronic line. Furthermore, the Jews had recently experienced the reign of priest-kings with the Hasmoneans– but they certainly were not the fulfillment of the predictions of the prophets, since they were not of David and Judah, but from Aaron and Levi!

Then we come to Jesus of Nazareth. He is without a doubt a descendant of David and Judah according to the flesh (Matthew 1:1-17). The throne of His father David is promised to Him (Luke 1:31-33). But in His life He never raises so much as a finger against Rome and its authority. Instead, He preaches a message of the imminent Kingdom of God and dies on a Roman cross– an event His followers understood as the sacrificial offering for the atonement of sin (Matthew 4:17, 23, Romans 5:6-11, Hebrews 9:1-15). He certainly does not fulfill the expectations of the Jews in terms of the rule of the son of David, but He certainly is engaged in functions of ministry, sacrifice, and atonement, the realm generally reserved for Aaron and his descendants.

This challenge was understood by the author of the letter to the Hebrews. He understood that Jesus was of Judah, a tribe concerning which Moses spoke nothing about the priesthood (Hebrews 7:13-14). But he also understood that the Aaronic/Levitical priesthood was imperfect, offering up animals that could not really atone for sin (Hebrews 7:11, 10:4). Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself, however, was perfect, able to atone for any and all sin, and thus speaks of a better ministry, a better mediation, and thus a better priesthood (Hebrews 7:15-28, 1 Timothy 2:5). But how could Jesus be a priest when He was not from Aaron but from David through Judah?

God’s great plan for salvation was predicted before the events took place, and the Hebrew author highlights a psalm of David to demonstrate how Jesus is a priest– Psalm 110.

That this is a “Messianic” psalm, written by David and inspired by the Spirit is without a doubt; Jesus asks the religious leaders about Psalm 110:1 and how David can say that “YHWH said to my lord…” if the Messiah is David’s son (Matthew 22:41-46/Mark 12:35-37/Luke 20:41-44). And then we have the promise in verse 4: God has sworn, and it will not be revoked– David’s Lord would be a priest forever according to the priesthood of Melchizedek?

Who is Melchizedek? We read of him in Genesis 14:18-20, and the Hebrew author describes him in Hebrews 7:1-10. His name means “King of Righteousness,” and he was king of Salem (“peace”; the city is later named Jerusalem) and priest of God Most High. Abraham gives him a tithe of everything carried back from the victory over the foreign kings, and the Hebrew author points out that thus Levi and the Levites, still in the “loins of Abraham,” gave tithes to Melchizedek. He did not receive his position as priest by genealogy or nepotism, and in him the roles of king and priest were truly intertwined.

Even if the Jews believed that there would have to either be two Messiahs or that the Messiah would focus entirely on his role as King of Israel, David in the Spirit knew better– the Messiah would mean the end of the old system (cf. Hebrews 7:12). The Messiah would be King, yes, but also a priest in the order of Melchizedek. The Messiah would be the King of Righteousness over the City of Peace (cf. Isaiah 61:1-4, Hebrews 12:22-24, Revelation 21:1-22:6). He would accomplish this through His priesthood– the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, providing Himself as the perfect offering, a ministry in every way superior to what came before (cf. Hebrews 7:11-28).

There would be only one Messiah, and He would provide the satisfaction for everything. Yes, He would reign as King, but only after He accomplished His ministry and His priesthood on the cross. In the resurrection He receives the authority and the throne promised Him, and the message of the prophets is satisfied. Let us praise God for Jesus the Christ, King of Righteousness over the City of Peace, High Priest, our Advocate!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Christ Crucified

Seeing that Jews ask for signs, and Greeks seek after wisdom: but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumblingblock, and unto Gentiles foolishness; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

When people hear about the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire in the first few centuries of this era, it is easy to think that either there was not much competition or people were just more ready to accept belief in Jesus as the Christ. This is the way that many who wish to look down upon the faith want to present the situation too, promoting a move away from “primitive faith” in our more “enlightened age.”

In reality, however, the first century was a time of great philosophical engagement. The Platonic, Peripatetic (Aristotelian), Stoic, Cynic, Epicurean, and other schools of philosophy flourished, promoted their views, and challenged one another. “Mystery religions” involving exclusive groups and secret rites were popular. There was also interest in the Jewish religion, among others, and the Jews of the first century were very fervent about their religion and their identity.

Christianity, therefore, did not grow without any meaningful opposition. In fact, for many, the only thing that would unify them would be their shared opposition to Christianity!

As Paul indicates, much of the opposition to Christianity came as a result of its central tenets– Jesus as the Crucified and Risen Christ (1 Corinthians 1:18-31). This idea was not wholeheartedly embraced uncritically by the majority establishment of its day– far from it! Such ideas were as “preposterous” then as they are often reckoned now!

To the Jews, Christ crucified is a stumbling-block. The image comes from Isaiah 8:14 and applied by Paul to Jesus in Romans 9:32-33, and it is very appropriate. The Jews were looking forward to the future Messiah as the King of physical Israel who would deliver them from oppression, restore the kingdom of David, and thus defeat the Romans and establish a Jewish world power. But the idea of the Christ– the Messiah– as crucified is entirely contrary to those intentions, especially the Christ crucified on a Roman cross! Thus, while looking forward to the coming Messiah and waiting to see His signs, Jesus came and fulfilled all that was written of the Christ, and the Jews did not receive Him (John 1:11, Matthew 5:17-18, Luke 24:44). The Jews tripped over the Christ they were not expecting, and their impending doom as a nation was sealed (Matthew 24:1-36, Romans 11:7-10).

To the Gentiles, particularly those well-versed in Greek philosophy and Greek thinking, Christ crucified and raised from the dead is foolishness. Many Athenians mocked when they heard of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 17:32). It was folly because the idea of God coming in the flesh, let alone to die, let alone to be raised again (cf. Philippians 2:5-11), was utterly contrary to everything they believed. If God or gods existed, they certainly would not demean themselves to the point of becoming human. Even if such a possibility were imaginable, no divine being of any standing would suffer to live as a peasant and die as a common criminal on a Roman cross, for humility was no virtue to the Greek. Beyond all of this, the idea of the resurrection of the dead was preposterous. Not only did the dead remain dead, and not only were there no instances of the dead being raised, but why would anyone want to be raised again in the flesh? The Greeks imagined that the state of bliss would be found in a disembodied spirit form; the body was a hindrance, not a help. According to the Gentile worldview, Christ crucified and raised simply did not make any sense.

Notice that Paul does not deny this. Paul understands that to the Jew who thinks like Jews, Christ crucified is a stumbling-block; to a Greek well-versed in their philosophies, Christ crucified is sheer folly. Paul knows and confesses that the Jews look for signs but not according to the nature of Christ; the Gentiles seek after wisdom, but it is not the wisdom rooted in God. The Jew seeks the worldly Messiah; the Greek seeks the wisdom of the world. To both, nothing can be more ridiculous than Christ crucified.

And that is precisely the point: to the ways of the world Christianity always has been, is today, and will always remain ridiculous. God as a Jewish peasant executed by the Romans as a common criminal only to be raised from the dead? It is not as if this story has only recently become difficult for many to accept!

In fact, Paul embraces the “foolishness” of the message of Christ crucified. He speaks of how it was God’s pleasure to save people through this “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:21).

Unfortunately, this passage is often used to attack Christianity as anti-intellectual: after all, Paul says that Christianity is “foolishness” that militates against those with knowledge and wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-20), and that only those who are poor and of low station believed (1 Corinthians 1:26). But that is not what Paul is saying! It is true that Christianity was more appealing to those of lower class and lower station, and Paul admits as much in 1 Corinthians 1:26, but there were some of the upper classes and the intelligent who believed. It is not that Christianity is anti-intellectual or truly foolish– instead, it is only anti-intellectual according to the worldly version of intellectualism, and only folly according to the world’s definition of wisdom.

This is why Paul says that God’s foolishness is wiser than men, as God’s weakness is stronger than men (1 Corinthians 1:25)– not that God is really foolish or weak, but that He is so completely superior to mankind that whatever folly and weakness could be perceived in Him is still greater than the wisdom and strength of men!

Intellectualism and worldly wisdom are seductive. Not a few have thought of themselves far more highly than they should have on account of their great learning. Yet, as Paul shows, one can master worldly knowledge and wisdom and yet will still not be able to approach the understanding and strength of God.

We hear the same messages today that Paul no doubt heard in the first century: impressive sounding arguments about the impossibility of Christianity that are, in fact, quite hollow and baseless. Mockery and derision of the faith has been a challenging weapon both then and now. Yet behind all the bluster and the argument remains the fact that the reason Christianity has been vexing to its opponents for all of these years is that it suggests an entirely different way of looking at the world than worldly knowledge or wisdom. Christianity suggests that there is a Creator God to whom we are all subject, and He has established His purposes for mankind in Jesus and the Scriptures (John 1:1-18, 2 Timothy 3:16-17). In Jesus God manifested His qualities– love, humility, compassion, mercy, peace– and they were so disturbing to the establishment of the day that they had Him executed and those who followed Him persecuted. There’s an intractable conflict between the values of God in Christ and the values of the world (James 4:4, 1 John 2:15-17), and one cannot abide in the wisdom of the world and be pleasing to God.

Christ crucified and raised. According to the ways of the world, this is sheer folly. It does not make sense unless one is willing to reject the ways of the world and trust in the ways of God. Those who are willing to have such faith in God understand His power in Christ and will endure the criticisms and the charges of foolishness. Let us not despair because the critics of the faith assail it as folly; they have been doing so for millennia. Let us instead remain humble, recognizing that God is always stronger and wiser than men, and depend on Him and His Son for our deliverance!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Rested on the Sabbath

And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. And on the sabbath they rested according to the commandment (Luke 23:56).

It was the day in the middle of the most important events in human history. We can only imagine how it must have been.

Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified and now lay in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:1-55). He was in Paradise as He had promised (Luke 23:43), and perhaps this is the time when He preached to spirits in prison, but there is no basis for being definitive here (1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6).

Those who had sought to put Jesus to death must have been content. They could now enjoy the high Sabbath of the Passover week in relative peace. Another “Messiah” had been executed, no longer to be a threat. They would not miss Jesus’ antagonism. Their vision of Judaism remained as it had been, and in their estimation, all was well.

Since it was still the Passover the Roman authorities would still be on high alert. Mass sedition and riot was avoided over the matter of Jesus of Nazareth, but there could be any number of reasons for a new uprising or threat to Roman power. It is possible that Pilate had some twinges of guilt– perhaps he meditated a little bit about his strange interaction with that interesting Man. But there’s no reason to believe that Pilate was overly disturbed about his conduct. As for Herod, well, there was one fewer antagonist stirring up the people in Galilee. Whereas he took the blame for killing John, Jesus’ death was at least off of his head.

The people who cried for Jesus’ death would rest as pious Jews, looking forward to continuing the Passover festivities. Despite the hype there would be no revolution during this Passover. Another “Messiah” had come and gone, and life continued as it always had.

Yet there were many others who did not consent to Jesus’ death. They would still be smarting from the injustice that just took place. One day He was teaching in the Temple– the next, crucified as an insurrectionist, having been arrested and tried in most dishonest ways. Here was a great hope– a wonderful proclamation of the coming Kingdom of God– and yet again, the forces of darkness seemed to prevail.

And then there were the women who followed Jesus to the very end (cf. Luke 23:49, 55-56). So many hopes seemingly dashed– so much promise now gone. They had seen where He was entombed, and they awaited the morning to finish the preparations of His body that had been hastily begun before the previous sunset.

Finally we have His disciples. A cloud of suspicion was over them– what would they do? Yet they were not a threat. Instead, they were left to wonder what had happened. They had seen Jesus do so many amazing things. He said the words and did the things that the Messiah would say and do. They would remember that He said that He would die– but it still did not make any sense, for He also talked about the coming of His Kingdom. How could a dead Messiah rule over a Kingdom? There was this talk of Him rising from the dead, but the disciples knew that the dead remain dead, and that the resurrection would come on the final day for everyone (cf. Daniel 12:2-3, John 11:24). Now what would they do? How could this make any sense whatsoever?

We know what will take place the next morning, and that from then on, nothing would be the same. Yet, as we consider that high Sabbath day so long ago, perceiving the last day that things had been as they always had been, we understand all the more just how profound the resurrection of Jesus Christ really is.

It has become popular in many circles to believe that the disciples made up the resurrection of Jesus. Such seems almost laughable when we understand the attitudes and conduct of those disciples during Jesus’ final week. It is not as if all the disciples and women are counting down the hours and minutes of the Sabbath awaiting the resurrection. We greatly err if we think that they were so much more “ignorant” or “superstitious” than we are to just expect Jesus to rise again. They knew as well as we that the dead stay dead and that the end of not a few Messianic movements came when the “Messiah” was killed. Even though Jesus had predicted His resurrection (cf. John 2:19-22, Luke 9:22), the disciples were manifestly in no position to understand what He meant or to be prepared for it. It is little wonder that they all disbelieved at first when it happened (cf. Mark 16:11-13)!

We do well, at times, to place ourselves back on that high Sabbath of rest– the moment of pause during the most momentous events in human history. It increases our wonder and awe all the more of the resurrection that will come the next day. Let us praise God that we can have the victory through Jesus’ death and resurrection!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Prophet Over Jerusalem

And when [Jesus] drew nigh, he saw [Jerusalem] and wept over it, saying, “If thou hadst known in this day, even thou, the things which belong unto peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, when thine enemies shall cast up a bank about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall dash thee to the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation” (Luke 19:41-44).

This was absolutely not the expected narrative.

There had been rumblings regarding Jesus of Nazareth ever since He was born. Angels had declared that He would be the Son of David. He would redeem Israel. His life seemed to testify to this charge– He healed the sick, raised the dead, and powerfully refuted His opponents. After all of His work in Galilee, Decapolis, and the surrounding regions, He had come to Jerusalem. As He entered town on a colt, fulfilling all that had been spoken, expectations were at a fever pitch. The showdown with the authorities had to be coming. The vindication of Israel was surely around the corner. Pilate and the Romans would not know what hit them!

But while all the Jews fervently desire– and expect– the downfall of the Roman power and the exaltation of Israel, Jerusalem, and the Temple of God, the Messiah Himself weeps and mourns the upcoming devastation of Israel, sack of Jerusalem, and victory of the Romans.

This was not the first time such things had taken place. And the reactions were about the same.

God raised up Jeremiah as a prophet to Judah at the end of the seventh century BCE. Everything seemed great for Judah. God had delivered Jerusalem from the hand of the Assyrians, and as Assyria was declining in power, Judah was re-establishing itself over the lost lands of Israel. Most of the Jews saw a rosy picture ahead of great prosperity and a powerful king in Jerusalem, all thanks to the One True God, the God of Israel.

Yet Jeremiah predicted destruction by the hands of Babylon because of the sin of the people unless they repented (cf. Jeremiah 7). Jeremiah prophesied the unimaginable: YHWH allowing His enemies to triumph over His people and desecrate His Temple. Jeremiah was reviled, and gained no love from his fellow Jews when his message ultimately proved true. The crisis of belief after the destruction of the first Temple was sufficient for the Jews of the day!

Six hundred years later the situation was little different. How could Jesus of Nazareth, claimed to be God’s Messiah and the Redeemer of Israel, predict that the holy city would be destroyed? How could YHWH allow these uncircumcised brutish Romans to triumph over His people and desecrate His Temple?

And yet Jesus proves to be correct. He was not the Messiah the Jews were expecting or, quite frankly, even wanted. He did not come to deliver them from the Romans– He in fact predicts that because of their rejection of Him the Romans will destroy them. He came to deliver them from their sins so that they could overcome in the spiritual battle– the one of much greater importance than the one they wanted to fight (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18).

The Jews were so fervently desiring the end of Roman oppression that they did not perceive the oppression of the Evil One. The Jews were so focused on their hope for a champion that they missed their Messiah. They paid a heavy price when God declared with power the end of the covenant between Him and Israel and the consequences of killing the Son when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and slaughtered the Jews, just as Jesus foretold (cf. Luke 20:9-18). While Jesus was more than a prophet, He still was a prophet, and the only One to speak of the destruction of Jerusalem for a second time in advance. Such is a powerful testimony to who He really was!

It is easy for us today also to focus on our own battles and the world around us and forget about the spiritual battle of great importance. We would like to imagine that God’s Messiah would be the champion of our causes. For too many, Jesus is not the Messiah that they would expect or even want. But that is not for us to decide. God set forth plainly in the Law, Psalms, and Prophets exactly who Jesus would be and what He would accomplish, and He fulfilled them all (cf. Luke 24:44-47). He came to show us how to live, manifesting the true image of God and died so that we could die to sin and live to righteousness, and was raised in power on the third day, and now reigns as Lord (cf. 1 Peter 2:20-25, 1 John 2:1-6). Let us not make the same mistake as those who have gone on before us and seek a Messiah of our own desire. Let us accept Jesus as the Messiah, and do His will, lest He weep and mourn over us also!

Ethan R. Longhenry

To Whom Shall We Go?

Upon this many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.
Jesus said therefore unto the twelve, “Would ye also go away?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. And we have believed and know that thou art the Holy One of God” (John 6:66-69).

Jesus never intended for Christianity to be easy. He has spoken and commanded many difficult things. Many of His teachings and practices are counter-intuitive and entirely against the grain of “conventional wisdom.”

Most people can accept, or at least tolerate, much of what Jesus said and did. Most people have no difficulty accepting the teachings and practices of Jesus Christ that come easily for them. After all, it is easy to keep avoiding the sins you have been avoiding and to keep doing the good things you have been doing!

But then there are the more challenging commands. “Deny [yourself], take up [your] cross and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 20:27). Be crucified to self, live for Christ– no longer me, but Him (Galatians 2:20). Love your enemies; do good to those who would hate you and do evil to you (Luke 6:27-36). Do good at every opportunity, even when inconvenient (Luke 10:29-37). The list can go on and on, and the list will be different for each person!

Jesus had taught many difficult things in John 6 (John 6:60). He told people that they needed to eat His flesh and drink His blood if they were to have eternal life (John 6:53). While Jesus was speaking spiritually (cf. John 6:61-63), the image was quite disturbing for these good Jews, and it was difficult to wrap their heads around the idea of “consuming” the Incarnate Word (cf. John 1:1, 14). Because of these difficult sayings, many disciples no longer walked with Him (John 6:66).

Jesus turns and asks the Twelve if they would go away in John 6:67, and we then have Simon Peter’s excellent confession in John 6:68-69.

Notice what Peter does not say. Peter does not say that the teachings are easy or that they are entirely in line with the way the disciples already think. No– Peter recognizes that Jesus’ words are challenging and difficult. They were as counter-intuitive and against “conventional wisdom” then as they are now!

Instead, Peter demonstrates his faith and the faith of the other eleven disciples. Their faith is in Jesus Himself. They have come to believe and know that He is the Holy One of God, the promised Messiah that the prophets anticipated (John 1:41, 45). They have seen His work and know that no man can do what He does by His own strength (cf. John 9:30-33). Therefore, even if what Jesus of Nazareth teaches is difficult to swallow, it must be swallowed, because He has come from God and He speaks words of eternal life, and no such words can be found elsewhere!

If we are going to be effective servants of Jesus Christ, we must have the same starting point of faith as Peter and the disciples. It is not enough for us to believe in Jesus Christ for the things we like about Him, or that we should be attracted to Him because He taught some “good things.” Our faith must be rooted, first and foremost, in the belief and knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Holy One of God, Lord of heaven and earth, and His words are the words of eternal life (John 6:68-69, Matthew 28:18, Acts 2:36). If we first believe that, then we will be able to accept all things that He has taught, not necessarily because we think that they are all wonderful and lovely, but instead because we know that they are true and lead to eternal life, and that we cannot find such life anywhere else.

It will not be easy. Jesus’ deeds challenge us and force us out of our comfort zones. Jesus’ teachings overthrow some of our cherished beliefs and perspectives. We will be compelled to change the way we think, act, and how we present ourselves to others (Romans 6:16-18, Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 10:5). It may be difficult, but, in the end, where else can we go? Jesus is the Holy One of God, the One who teaches words of eternal life. Let us learn from Him, accept both the easy and the challenging, and be found as faithful servants of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Christ the Lord

And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying, “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified” (Acts 2:36).

When we consider Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection, and begin preaching the message of salvation in His name, we make much of the atoning aspect of His death. We preach how Jesus died for our sins, and how His death allows for the reconciliation of God with man.

The atoning power of Jesus’ death is quite significant, and we are not trying to minimize its force or its value. Yet, when Peter stands up and begins preaching to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, his message focused not on the atoning aspect of Jesus’ death but what Jesus’ death and resurrection meant for the power structures of the day: God has made Jesus the crucified both Lord and Christ!

The message was inescapable: Jesus, as the son of David, was the one prophesied to come and sit on David’s throne forever (cf. 2 Samuel 7:16; Acts 2:34). Through His death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus accomplished these things, and all authority in heaven and on earth was granted to Him. Therefore, the Jews on the day of Pentecost were to see that Jesus was their Lord, and they needed to serve Him!

Yes, Tiberius was still Emperor of Rome, yet in truth the great Rock had crushed the nations into pieces (Daniel 2:44). All were then made subject to Jesus and His Word, and would be judged accordingly on the last day (John 12:48, Acts 17:30-31), no matter what the Emperor might say.

Rome has passed, along with plenty of other nations and powers, and yet nothing has really changed since that day. Perhaps there may be many who refuse to submit to Jesus as their Lord in life, but Paul makes it perfectly clear in Philippians 2:9-11 that a day is coming upon which every knee will bow and every tongue confess the great power and majesty of Christ the Lord. The only question will be whether you will do so gladly, as one falling before one’s Savior, or mournfully, realizing the folly of sin when it is too late (cf. Matthew 25:1-13).

Americans, especially, have difficulties understanding authority and the need to submit to the proper authorities. Perhaps that is why it seems so much easier to preach Jesus as the Lamb of God: there is something in it for the one who hears. Nevertheless, it is good for us to remember and make clear that because Jesus died and is now risen, Jesus is Lord. And since Jesus is Lord– in fact, Lord of lords (cf. Revelation 19:16)– He deserves our homage and service, even if there was nothing in it for us (cf. Luke 17:7-10)! If we would show proper deference to an earthly ruler or king, how much more obedience should we continually show before the King of kings and Lord of lords? If we would be willing to obey one who has power over our lives, why would we refuse to obey the one who has power over our souls (Matthew 10:28)?

Thanks be to God that we have such a wonderful Lord and Christ, One who loved us so that He was willing to die for us, to provide us with all spiritual blessings, and to provide the hope of the resurrection and eternal life for all who would obey Him (John 3:16, Ephesians 1:3, 1 Corinthians 15). Let us confess that Jesus is our Lord, and be His servants today!

Ethan R. Longhenry