The End of Their World

“And when I shall extinguish thee, I will cover the heavens, and make the stars thereof dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over thee, and set darkness upon thy land,” saith the Lord YHWH (Ezekiel 32:7-8).

You either flock to “apocalyptic” passages of Scripture or prove at least a little apprehensive about them. They look weird. Hollywood could take notes on what is portrayed.

Many are convinced no such passage has been yet fulfilled since we have not seen such cosmic signs in the sky. Yet maintaining such an expectation unnecessarily literalizes prophetic imagery, creates impossible expectations, and misses out on the prophet’s main lesson. People read apocalyptic passages and expect the end of the world; the prophet is warning the people regarding the end of their world.

Ezekiel’s message regarding Egypt in Ezekiel 32:7-8 can help us better understand the nature of such “apocalyptic” prophecies. From 587 until 585 Ezekiel received a series of messages against Pharaoh and the Egyptians; one such message came in 570 and represents the final prophecy given by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 29:1-32:32). Ezekiel’s prophecy against Egypt remained consistent throughout: YHWH would send the king of Babylon and his army against Pharaoh and his host, Pharaoh would be humiliated, the people would suffer exile, and Egypt would no longer rise as a kingdom among the nations. Ezekiel 32:7-8 is given in this context; in Ezekiel 32:11, he explicitly associated this “apocalyptic” message with the promise of the arrival of the king of Babylon against Egypt.

This “apocalypse,” therefore, was expected quite soon. Nebuchadnezzar did send a Chaldean Babylonian army against Egypt in 567 to help deposed Pharaoh Wahibre (Apries) regain his throne against the upstart Ahmose II (Amasis). The invasion proved unsuccessful. The Egyptians would not experience an exile in the way Ezekiel originally promised, but the “apocalypse” would come upon their land: Ahmose’s son Psamtik III would be defeated by Cambyses king of Persia in 525, deposed, and exiled to Susa. Egypt would be incorporated into the Persian Empire, and beyond a brief stint of home rule in the 4th century BCE, would continue to serve as a pawn for successive empires until 1953 of our own era.

For us today such a conclusion might seem underwhelming, and not much of a fulfillment. It does not seem sufficiently dramatic to us. Yet consider the situation from Ezekiel’s own perspective. When he was born around 622 BCE the world around him remained as it had been for the better part of 500 years: sure, the kingdoms of Israel and Aram had fallen to the Assyrians, but the Assyrians still ruled, Babylon laid in wait, Jerusalem stood, and Egypt remained as it had been for millennia. A visitor from a few centuries earlier would have recognized that world. By the time Ezekiel received these messages from YHWH, Assyria had fallen, no longer a going concern; Chaldean Babylon was now ascendant; Jerusalem had been destroyed. Within another century Persia, in Ezekiel’s day one among many peoples subject to the Medes, would conquer the known world, eliminating both Babylon and Egypt as independent nations. This was a completely new world; nothing like it had ever been seen. Surely the collapse of the Late Bronze Age kingdoms proved more catastrophic, and yet even then Assyria, Babylon, and Egypt remained. Babylon had been founded in 2300 BCE; Assyria, 2500; Egypt, 3100. Within one century all would fall, never to rise again. All of them had in their own way oppressed Israel the people of God; all of them were denounced by the prophets; all thus endured the Day of YHWH.

Therefore, even though by our standards we might find it hard to accept these “apocalyptic” prophecies met their fulfillment, the historical evidence makes it difficult to argue otherwise. Assyria was at the apex of its power under Ashurbanipal who died in 631 BCE; who could imagine it would be destroyed 20 years later? Josiah of Judah oversaw a renaissance in Judah; within 25 years of his death Jerusalem and its Temple would be destroyed, and the Davidic Kingdom of Judah would never rise again. Nebuchadnezzar presided in Babylon as king of the world; within 25 years it would all become the possession of a king and a nation which was not even an independent force when he died. Ahmose II and his fellow pharaohs of the Twenty-Sixth dynasty presumed to restore the glory of Egypt and imitated Old Kingdom art; yet Egypt in their day would become subject to distant foreigners, and would remain so for about as long as it had enjoyed independence. All of these collapses happened suddenly. The world had not ended; but their world was gone, never to return.

If we understand the gravity of the events which took place between 625 and 525 BCE, we would recognize how imagery like the sun, moon, and stars turning dark is more than appropriate. Everything the people of the nations had taken for granted for centuries, if not millennia, was suddenly overturned. For anyone who was invested in the status quo which had developed in the first half of the first millennium BCE the events proved to be an unmitigated disaster.

No one would come out the same. Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, and the small surrounding nations would undergo Hellenization after the conquest of Alexander the Great, syncretizing their cultural and religious ideologies with those of the Greeks. Some Judahites would return from Babylonian exile, yet they would not return to the syncretized ways of their ancestors; Second Temple Judaism would prove as uniquely distinct from the practices of the days of the Solomonic Temple as it would from the Judaism which developed after the second Temple was destroyed.

Such is how it goes with “apocalypses.” The world does not end, but the world will never be the same again. A world has come to an end.

As Christians we confess Jesus as Lord of lords and King of kings; we recognize the nations of the world are empowered by God but enslave themselves to the powers and principalities over this present darkness (Romans 13:1, Ephesians 6:12, Revelation 13:1-18, 19:16). We look forward to the day on which the Lord Jesus will return and fully defeat death, the final enemy, and receive unto Himself all of every nation who serves Him, and to share in eternity in the resurrection of life (1 Corinthians 15:20-58, Revelation 20:11-22:6). In the meantime we have every confidence that the nations and their fates remain in the hands of God just as they did in the days of the prophets; the fact John can see judgments on Rome in terms of the judgments against the nations according to the prophets provides such testimony.

To this end we might well experience “apocalypses” as we await the ultimate Apocalypse, the final appearance of Jesus, the Son of Man and Risen Lord. These “apocalypses” are not the end of the world, but they will represent the end of a world. They might be personal in nature; they might afflict a particular group of people; they may afflict a nation or the entire world. In these times things people took for granted and assumed to be predictable become so no longer. What used to be “normal” becomes impossible. Life might well go on for many, but it will not look like it did before.

God has never promised to remove us from such forms of distress, but He has left us the same promise He has always left His people in difficult times. He will strengthen and sustain us through whatever we must endure, but only if we turn to Him and cling to Him as our refuge and strength. Ultimately we have no basis in confidence and reliance on any thing in this creation, and “apocalypses” remind us of this: they all fade and fall apart (1 Peter 1:23-25). At the same time, nothing in the creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:31-39): no force can tear us away from God. In Christ we can endure anything as long as we maintain our faith and trust in Him come what may.

No one ever asked to live through an “apocalypse.” No one wants to experience a day and time in which metaphors of cosmic dislocation seem just about right or perhaps even a little understated. And yet according to God’s sovereign purposes such times come upon mankind. They end a world; but they have not yet ended the world. They have often allowed for transformation and new life to grow. Whether we live in times of comfort or distress, stability or “apocalypse,” we do well to maintain our confidence in God in Christ, and not in anything He has made, and obtain the resurrection of life in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Declaration of the False Prophet

And it came to pass the same year, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, in the fourth year, in the fifth month, that Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet, who was of Gibeon, spake unto me in the house of YHWH, in the presence of the priests and of all the people, saying,
“Thus speaketh YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, saying, I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two full years will I bring again into this place all the vessels of YHWH’s house, that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place, and carried to Babylon: and I will bring again to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, with all the captives of Judah, that went to Babylon, saith YHWH; for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon” (Jeremiah 28:1-4).

When reading the history of Israel it can be very easy to wonder why the Israelites would not listen to the prophets. They warned about upcoming dangers, and those dangers came to pass. Why were they so foolish?

While such a response is understandable we have to be very careful. The history of Israel in the Old Testament is true and told the way God wants it to be told. Yet, and for good reason, much of what was said and done in Israel was not preserved, especially the words of the false prophets. One exception to this is found with Hananiah son of Azzur in Jeremiah 28:1-17, and his example is quite instructive for us.

The context is set in Jeremiah 27:1-22: near the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah and son of Josiah YHWH told Jeremiah to make iron yokes to send to the kings of the neighboring nations with the decree that YHWH was giving all those nations, along with Judah, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon (ca. 596-592 BCE; Jeremiah 27:1-6). All those nations were to serve Nebuchadnezzar and his sons or suffer destruction; they should not listen to all the prophets, soothsayers, diviners, or anyone else who would presume to say that they will not have to serve the king of Babylon (Jeremiah 27:7-10). Those who served Nebuchadnezzar would stay in their land (Jeremiah 27:10). Jeremiah brought the same message to Zedekiah king of Judah: serve Nebuchadnezzar, stay in the land, and live, and do not listen to those who prophesy lies and speak falsely (Jeremiah 27:11-15). Jeremiah took the same message to the priests and the people, declaring that all things left in the Temple would also be taken to Babylon, but they would be restored on a later day of YHWH’s visitation (Jeremiah 27:16-22).

Within the same year we hear of Hananiah son of Azzur, called a prophet of Gibeon: he spoke to Jeremiah in the Temple in the presence of all the people (Jeremiah 28:1). His message was exactly what Jeremiah had warned against in Jeremiah 27:11-22: a claim that YHWH has broken the yoke of the king of Babylon, and within two years all those vessels which had been taken out of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in the days of Jehoiachin would be brought back to Jerusalem (Jeremiah 28:2-3; cf. 2 Kings 24:1-16, Daniel 1:1-2). Jeconiah (another name for Jehoiachin) king of Judah would return along with the other captives (Jeremiah 28:3; cf. Daniel 1:1-2). After Jeremiah challenged Hananiah’s legitimacy Hananiah broke the yoke bar Jeremiah was still wearing; YHWH through Jeremiah sharply condemned Hananiah to death for having spoken rebellion (Jeremiah 28:4-16). Within three months Hananiah was dead (Jeremiah 28:17). Two years later nothing much had changed in the geopolitical situation. Within six years Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, Zedekiah had been blinded and carted off to exile, and all that YHWH had spoken through Jeremiah had come to pass (Jeremiah 52:1-27). No doubt remained: YHWH spoke through Jeremiah but did not speak through Hananiah.

We can understand why most of the authors of Scripture do not take up space directly quoting false prophets; their messages proved false and it is better for us to hear the true words spoken by the faithful prophets (2 Peter 1:21). But it is good for us to see Hananiah’s words here as representative of what false prophets would say, why they would be motivated to say it, and why people believed them.

Hindsight, it is said, is 20/20; after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile it is easy to commend Jeremiah and condemn Hananiah. But the people of Judah in 592 BCE did not have that advantage. From their point of view Hananiah’s message was preferable not only politically but theologically as well. They believed YHWH was God of Israel; they believed He dwelt in the Temple in Jerusalem. He would not give His glory to another. Had not the mighty Assyrians invaded about a century before and yet YHWH preserved Jerusalem from their grasp (701 BCE; 2 Kings 18:1-19:37)? If YHWH was their God, and He is greater than Marduk and the gods of Babylon, then surely He would preserve Jerusalem yet again. Judah would outlast Babylon as he had Assyria. Yes, the king, Temple furnishings, and the nobility had been exiled, but YHWH would bring them back. That made sense to the people. It was consistent with their expectations. Jeremiah’s message, on the other hand, was precisely not what anyone wanted to hear. Serve a foreign king? Submit to bondage? YHWH would see the rest of the vessels transported in exile to Babylon? The Babylonians would overrun the holy place? Such ideas were deeply offensive to the people of Judah, contrary to everything they believed about themselves, their God, and their land. No wonder they persecuted him and wanted him dead (Jeremiah 26:11-24)!

In the end Jeremiah was vindicated. He would have considered it cold comfort; he was not exactly excited about the prospect of watching the devastation of his people, his land, and the triumph of the pagan enemy. But he understood it was the judgment of YHWH on account of the transgressions and rebellion of the people. Few proved willing to listen to him beforehand; even afterward people questioned his sincerity (Jeremiah 43:1-4). The event was a tragedy all around, the greatest moment of crisis in Israelite history to that day.

Hananiah was not alone. Not a few prophets warn about the influence of false prophets and the suppression of the true message of prophets (Isaiah 29:10, Ezekiel 13:9, Micah 3:5, Zephaniah 3:4). Jesus warned His disciples to be concerned when all men spoke well of them, for thus they did to the false prophets who had come before them (Luke 6:26)! The false prophet’s message sounded better, made more sense, flattered people’s sensibilities, did not demand as much, and instilled complacency among the people. Viewed in that light it is not surprising the people listened to the false prophets. Their message was always easier.

The spirit of prophecy has passed on (1 Corinthians 13:8-10), yet there remain to this day those who speak falsely in the name of God. Their words sound good; they seem to make sense; they flatter people’s political and religious sensibilities; they often instill a sense of complacency. They are just as wrong and just as dangerous as was Hananiah (1 Timothy 4:1-4). Our trust must be in YHWH and in the truth He has revealed in Scripture, and we must test all spirits against that standard (2 Peter 1:20, 1 John 4:1-2). Let us put our trust in God in Christ, test all things, and proclaim His truth, no matter how unpopular!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Immanuel Sign

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, when he knoweth to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land whose two kings thou abhorrest shall be forsaken” (Isaiah 7:14-16).

The Kingdom of Judah seemed to be in deep trouble.

Around 735 BCE, faced with the ascendant power of Assyria to the north, Rezin king of Aram and Pekah king of Israel solidified their alliance and not so subtly suggested to Ahaz king of Judah that he should join their league. Ahaz resisted, and Rezin and Pekah retaliated by invading Judah and fighting against Jerusalem, intending to depose Ahaz and install a more compliant pretender on the throne (ca. 735-732 BCE, sometimes called the “Syro-Ephraimitic War”; Isaiah 7:1-6). Just before the invasion, when Judah was told of the confederation, they were terrified: Israel was likely stronger than Judah, let alone a Syro-Ephramitic alliance against Judah. How could Judah stand (cf. Isaiah 7:2)?

In the midst of this trial YHWH God of Israel sends a message to Ahaz through His prophet Isaiah. YHWH knew the plans of Aram and Israel and wanted to assure Ahaz that nothing would come of it (Isaiah 7:7). Within 65 years YHWH would see to it that there would be nothing left of Ephraim in Israel (Isaiah 7:8). All Ahaz needed to do was to do nothing, put his confidence in YHWH, and all would be well (Isaiah 7:9).

Yet Ahaz is famous (or infamous?) in Scripture for not putting his trust in YHWH but instead into the gods of other nations and what seemed like intelligent foreign policy (cf. 2 Kings 16:1-20). Now, it seemed, he was facing an existential threat to not only his own life but to the throne of David and Jerusalem itself. To do nothing while his adversaries encircled him and destroyed him? It seemed preposterous!

YHWH wishes to give a sign to Ahaz so that he can have confidence in the word He delivered through Isaiah (Isaiah 7:10-11); Ahaz, attempting to appear humble and pious, demurred (Isaiah 7:12). In so doing he wearies YHWH (Isaiah 7:13), yet the Lord will give a sign regardless: a woman will conceive a child, bear a son, called Immanuel (“God with us”; Isaiah 7:14). Before he knows how to choose good and refuse evil, likely within eight to fifteen years of his birth, he will eat butter and honey, signs of prosperity, for the land of Aram and Israel will be forsaken by that time (Isaiah 7:15-16). The danger will pass away if only Ahaz would just sit tight and trust in YHWH for deliverance.

Ahaz does not put his trust in YHWH. Rezin and Pekah invade Judah and besiege Jerusalem yet prove unable to overcome it (2 Kings 16:5-6). In distress Ahaz ends up beseeching the agent YHWH intended to use to judge Aram and Israel, Assyria, but does so at a high cost: he collected the gold and silver in the Temple and his own palace to give to Tiglath-pileser III king of Assyria and became a vassal of Assyria (2 Kings 16:7-8). Yet Tiglath-pileser III king of Assyria did not really need inducement to attack Aram and Israel; he would have likely done so without Ahaz’s appeal. In 732 BCE, Tiglath-pileser invaded Aram and Israel, exiled the inhabitants of Damascus and killed Rezin, then invaded Israel and made all of the land save for Ephraim part of his own empire (cf. 2 Kings 15:29, 16:9). About ten years later, in 722/721 BCE, Sennacherib king of Assyria finished the task by overcoming the defenses of Samaria and fully conquering the northern Kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 17:1-6). A child conceived in 735 BCE and born in 734 BCE would have been about 12 or 13 in 722/721 BCE, at the age of knowing to choose the good and refuse evil. YHWH made sure that the Immanuel sign was accomplished in its own time, but Ahaz’s foolish action cost Judah dearly. Had Ahaz listened to YHWH and done nothing, his foes would be gone and his (relative) independence would be maintained. Yet he voluntarily submitted to Assyria as a vassal; when his son Hezekiah rebelled against Sennacherib king of Assyria and stopped paying tribute, the full force of Assyria was unleashed against Judah, leading to the destruction of the walled cities of Judah save for Jerusalem (ca. 701 BCE; 2 Kings 18:7, 13-19:37). Ahaz sought a worldly way to maintain his throne and his head; it nearly cost his son both. They only obtained deliverance because God was with them.

Over the next seven hundred years there were many times when the Jews could have easily doubted the idea that God was with them: Babylon accomplished what Assyria sought to do, the people were exiled, returned to the land, remained under foreign domination, and experienced intense persecution at the hands of pagan oppressors for maintaining their confidence in YHWH their God. Yet through all of this the people hoped for the ultimate fulfillment of the Immanuel sign: the Child born of a virgin who would truly represent Immanuel, God with us, and He was born in a most humble way to a Galilean peasant girl in Bethlehem (Matthew 1:21-25, Luke 2:4-20). Yet again the people of Israel were beset with foes that seemed to threaten their very existence, but the time for their concerns had passed. The sign was no longer that the child would see prosperity and the destruction of the national foes of Judah by the age of 15; the Child Himself is the sign, for He is Jesus, the Immanuel, God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14). He came in the flesh to overcome the enemy of all mankind, to deliver them from sin and death, if they would only put their trust in Him to that end and stand firm (Acts 2:14-38, Romans 5:6-11, 8:1-10). By persevering to the end, Jesus obtains the Kingdom promised to the descendants of David, an everlasting Kingdom, and He serves as its Lord (Daniel 2:44, Colossians 1:13).

God was with Judah: He provided the sign of the child who would be able to enjoy peace and security at 15, and it came to pass. YHWH was able to defend and protect Judah without Ahaz needing to go compromise himself through the pursuit of what passed for human wisdom and sensible foreign policy. The cost of Ahaz’s foolishness was high, but God remained faithful to Hezekiah and preserved a remnant of Judah. Yet YHWH’s presence among His people was only ultimately demonstrated through the embodiment of the Word in Jesus of Nazareth, and it is through Him that God provides the ultimate deliverance for all mankind. We can only obtain that deliverance by trusting in Him and doing what He says; attempting to establish the fulfillment of the promise through what passes for worldly wisdom is foolhardy and can only postpone the ultimate end and danger we all face. Let us be thankful for the Immanuel sign, and unlike Ahaz, let us put our full confidence in God and seek to serve Him and glorify His name through His Son Jesus!

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

Judgment unto Victory

Behold, my servant, whom I uphold; my chosen, in whom my soul delighteth: I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry, nor lift up his voice, nor cause it to be heard in the street. A bruised reed will he not break, and a dimly burning wick will he not quench: he will bring forth justice in truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set justice in the earth; and the isles shall wait for his law (Isaiah 42:1-4).

One of the more puzzling aspects of Jesus’ ministry on the earth involves His admonishment of many of those whom He healed to not proclaim what He did for them. Why would He do such things but not want them to be made known? And why is He inconsistent about it?

It is not as if the “ban” on discussing what Jesus did was permanent; after all, we read about these events in the Gospel narratives. Jesus told Peter, James, and John to not speak of His Transfiguration until after He rose from the dead (Matthew 17:9). Furthermore, Jesus told the man from whom He cast out Legion to declare to all in his house what God did for him (cf. Luke 8:38-39). What is motivating Jesus to do what He is doing?

Matthew provides us a glimpse into the logic behind Jesus’ actions in Matthew 12:15-21. Matthew tells us how Jesus healed many people, but then charged them not to make Him known (Matthew 12:15-16). Matthew then establishes that He did so in order to fulfill what was spoken of Him by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 42:1-4 (Matthew 12:17-21). But how does Isaiah 42:1-4 relate to Jesus’ admonishments?

The heart of the matter can be found in Isaiah 42:2: He will not cry, nor lift up His voice, nor cause it to be heard in the street. This does not seem to be a prophecy of Jesus on the surface; Jesus most assuredly has been active in preaching and teaching throughout Israel (cf. Matthew 4:17, 23, 5:1-7:27, etc.). Matthew, of course, is well aware of this, and yet he is certain that the prophecy does relate to Jesus.

We do well, therefore, to understand Isaiah 42:2 in terms of the “silence” He requests from those of Israel whom He heals. When we consider the entire prophecy, this makes sense: the Servant is in the process of establishing justice on the earth. He is working toward sending forth judgment in truth and victory. But He is not there yet, and there is plenty of room for confusion. If the proclamations were made too soon, the people of God would misunderstand Jesus’ purposes, convinced that He was doing what they expected out of their Messiah. They would make Him into the Messiah of their own desires as opposed to allowing Him to be the Messiah in whom God is pleased, whom God upholds.

This judgment in truth and victory comes with His death and resurrection after which all of these things can be made known and properly understood. The “silence” is necessary because of the lack of understanding of Israel, even among His own disciples (cf. Matthew 16:15-23, John 2:18-22). Through His deeds and His teachings Jesus was setting forth the context for His Kingdom which He was busy establishing; the time was not yet to have His deeds proclaimed among Israel.

Yet this was not the same story among the Gentiles. The Servant came to bring justice to the Gentiles; in Him the Gentiles would hope; the islands, to be understood as people afar off, wait for His law. Such is why He encourages the man from whom Legion was cast out to proclaim what God had done for him (cf. Luke 8:26-39): since he lived across the Sea of Galilee from Galilee, he is in the Decapolis, a mostly Gentile area, and the Gentiles are to hear of the powerful working of Jesus the Servant of God, manifest as well in Acts 10:36-38.

Jesus’ insistence on people not making Himself or His deeds known does seem strange but is a bit more understandable when considering the prophecy. Everything Jesus says and does will make sense after His death and resurrection even if it is hard to comprehend beforehand. As God’s Servant, Jesus is preparing the ground for His Kingdom, the moment when He will send forth judgment unto victory, the hope of Jew and Gentile alike. The time has come to make known to all men the teachings and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth so that all may place their trust in Him so as to obtain eternal life. Let us place our hope in Jesus’ name!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Willful Blindness

“Therefore speak I to them in parables; because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And unto them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith,
‘By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand; And seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, And their ears are dull of hearing, And their eyes they have closed; Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And should turn again, And I should heal them'” (Matthew 13:13-16).

Jesus’ teaching style is not exactly what one might expect out of the Messiah, the Son of God. As the Word, active in the creation, He through whom all things subsist, He understands the greatest mysteries of the universe (John 1:1-3, Hebrews 1:3). He has come to proclaim the coming of the eternal Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:23). One might expect some kind of lofty discourse or some compelling argument. Instead, Jesus talks about farmers, crops, merchants, merchandise, women’s work, and similar things.

While it may seem strange to us, Jesus knows precisely what He is doing. While He speaks of farming, house work, matters of trade, and the like, He is really not addressing those matters. He’s providing marching orders in code: suffer loss of everything for the Kingdom. Not all will hear; not all who hear will endure. Do not be surprised when some doing the Devil’s work are in the midst of the saints. God is more interested in humble repentance than sanctimonious professions of righteousness.

So why does Jesus seem to “beat around the bush” and provide these messages in a figure? Yes, it was predicted that He would do so (Matthew 13:35; cf. Psalm 78:2). But there was even a reason why it was predicted that it would be so, and it involves the sad history of the Jews.

Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah (Matthew 13:13-15; cf. Isaiah 6:9-10). God comissions Isaiah to proclaim the message of deliverance and healing to the people. Yet the preaching of that message will not lead to repentance; God knows that it will only serve to further harden their hearts. In the Hebrew in Isaiah 6:9-10, it is the message being delivered that “makes fat” their hearts, “makes heavy” their eyes, and “makes shut” their ears. And, indeed, the people close off their senses. They do not listen to Isaiah’s message of nonintervention in international affairs and repentance regarding injustice, oppression, immorality, and idolatry at home. And Isaiah– and the people– live to see the wrath of God manifest in the Assyrian juggernaut, devastating Aram and Israel while leaving Jerusalem alone unscathed in Judah (Isaiah 1-10). It was not a pretty picture.

Seven hundred years later things had not changed too much for the better. While the Jews may not have been committing the particular sins of their ancestors, their eyes seemed no more inclined to see God’s work, nor were their ears much more inclined to hear God’s message. Jesus quotes the Isaianic prophecy directly at the Jews of His day (Matthew 13:14-15/Mark 4:10-12/Luke 8:10); Paul will later do so to the Jews at Rome (Acts 28:24-30).

In the Greek now, the prediction involves the condition of the heart. Obviously the Jews can “see” and “hear” what Jesus says and does. But they do not draw the appropriate conclusions. They should understand who Jesus is and the value of the message He proclaims, but it would be foreign to them no matter how it would be presented.

Some think that Jesus’ methodology might be unfair. How can He know whether or not His message would be understood before proclaiming it? Is that not unfair to the Jews?

We must remember that many of the Jews not only have no interest in the type of Kingdom of which Jesus proclaims but are even actively working to destroy Him. Anything He says can and will be used against Him, no matter how much the message is misunderstood or misconstrued. An excellent example comes from John 2:19, where Jesus says, “destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews imagined that He was talking about the edifice in Jerusalem (John 2:20), although He really was referring to His body (John 2:21). Years later, at Jesus’ trial, what is the evidence for the charge against Him? “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another made without hands'” (Mark 14:58). Their testimony in this did not even agree (Mark 14:59), and for good reason: Jesus never said it. He never said He would destroy the “Temple made with hands.” The memory of the event was entirely confused– and the source of the confusion was not Jesus. The confusion came from the worldview and perspective of the Jews hearing Him and their expectations and what they wanted to hear versus what He actually said!

And this is why Jesus speaks in parables. Even if they had an inkling of what He was really talking about– possibly quite doubtful, for even His disciples, who were more sympathetic to Him, needed them all explained (Mark 4:34)– what could they do with it? What kind of case can be made against someone who talks about crops, bread, pearls, fish, and the like? It was the perfect vehicle for Jesus’ messages: innocuous and innocent on the surface, deeply subversive and powerful in application underneath.

It was all necessary because the Jews wanted their Messiah according to their image and following their ideas of who the Messiah would be. As the Israelites of Isaiah’s day had little use for the declarations of the prophet, so many of the Jews of Jesus’ day had little use for a Messiah of a spiritual Kingdom who left Rome’s control of Jerusalem intact. They did not want to hear because it did not meet their expectations.

This challenge is not limited to the Jews, and it is not limited to the ancient world. Far too often people to this day refuse to listen to God in Christ because the message is unwanted, it does not fit their view of the world and how it operates, and it poses unwelcome challenges. Believers can easily fall into this trap themselves, preferring a particular view or perspective on Jesus that is heavily distorted, and dispense the true message of Jesus Christ with trite sayings and misguided arguments. There is no lack of willful blindness and deafness in our world today!

It is better, then, for us to be disciples in the same mold as the disciples present when Jesus spoke these words. Everyone comes to Jesus with their own ideas and expectations; those who will be found to be true servants of God are the ones who are willing to radically change those views and expectations based on what Christ the Lord says (1 Corinthians 1:18-31, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 2:1-9). Let us not reject His words; let us not create a God or a Christ in our own image, with our perspective to serve, but instead allow our image to be conformed to the true and Risen Christ (Romans 8:29)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Walking as He Walked

He that saith he abideth in [Jesus] ought himself also to walk even as he walked (1 John 2:6).

Why did Jesus live?

It would be entirely understandable if people got the impression that Jesus lived only to die for our sins. A lot of emphasis in preaching and teaching falls squarely on the death of Jesus for sin and comparatively less on how Jesus lived and the lessons of His life.

This is not to say that Jesus did not die for our sins, or that His death was not part of His life. According to Ephesians 3:11 and John 1:29, Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of sins was understood from eternity and from the beginning of His work on earth. Romans 5:5-11 eloquently expresses the nature of Jesus’ death and its great value for those who would believe in Him. Furthermore, there must be an emphasis on the death of Jesus for sin in the preaching of the Gospel, since it is a significant part of what must be believed, and a good reminder of what was required for us to be redeemed from sin (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Titus 3:3-8).

On the other hand, to believe that the only reason for Jesus to come to earth was to die would be a gross exaggeration and a distortion of what the Scriptures teach. If all Jesus had to do was to die, why did He preach and teach the people for three years? Why not just go quickly to Jerusalem and get it all over with?

Many may point to the fact that Jesus needed to first fulfill the prophecies made regarding Him, and that is certainly true (cf. Luke 24:44-47). Jesus Himself said that all things required fulfillment (Matthew 5:17-18). But are the only reasons why Jesus lived the fulfillment of prophecy and to die?

The Scriptures indicate that Jesus is the Word made flesh– if you see Jesus, it is as if you are seeing the Father (John 1:18, 14:6-11). Jesus came to communicate in word and deed the nature and essence of God. This was not designed to be a mere intellectual exercise or a model attempt!

When we read Scriptures like the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 5-7, the various parables in Matthew 13 or Luke 14-16, or the instructions to the disciples in John 13-17, among other passages, it becomes quickly apparent that Jesus in life is interested in making disciples who will follow Him, live by His principles as He did, and to proclaim His message and advance His Kingdom for His purposes and to His glory.

Under both covenants the command is given to be holy as God is holy (cf. Leviticus 11:17, 1 Peter 1:16). We are to love others as God has loved us, and this is expressed most powerfully through Jesus Christ (1 John 4:7-21). When we stop and think about it for a moment, all of the commands, principles, and exhortations of the new covenant– either regarding clinging to the good or abhorring the evil (cf. Romans 12:9)– are grounded and based upon the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

This is why John is able to express the truth simply: if we will abide in Jesus, we must walk as He walked. We must be imitators of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). Granted, there are some aspects of Jesus’ life and teaching that apply to first century Judaism and are not directly relevant for the new covenant, yet this does not change the reality that the foundation of the ethics, principles, and statutes of the New Testament is Jesus and what He accomplished in life.

Did Jesus live to fulfill prophecy and to die for the sins of mankind? Certainly– but His life means so much more. He lived to show us how to live. He became flesh and showed the way through His words and His deeds. He shows us that it is possible to be human and yet be holy and godly, both in what we are doing and in what we avoid.

But how can we walk as Jesus walked if we do not know how He walked? If we believe that we are Christians, then we must claim that we are disciples of Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20); how can we be disciples, or learners/followers, of Someone whom we barely know and under whose feet we are not sitting in order to learn? While all Scripture is profitable for spiritual growth (2 Timothy 3:16), the four Gospels should always hold a special place in our hearts, devotions, and study, for they are where we find the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth, our Redeemer, Lord, Master, Teacher, and Friend. Let us walk as Jesus walked, growing in His grace and knowledge (1 John 2:6, 2 Peter 3:18)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Gospel in Jesus’ Birth

And the angel said unto her, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:30-33).

This is the day that many in the world set aside to consider the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. It is important for us to take note that God never commands us to observe the birth of His Son, and we have no example from the New Testament of such an observance. We do not even know the day of His birth– December 25 was fixed hundreds of years later, and more because of the pagan festivals that surround that date than anything from the Scriptures. Since the shepherds were out at night with the flocks (Luke 2:8), it is most likely that He was born in spring or fall.

Nevertheless, the birth of Jesus is an important event. It is the moment at which the Word becomes flesh and dwells among mankind (John 1:1, 14). It is the occasion of the miracle of the virgin birth (Matthew 1:22-23). It is also the beginning of the fulfillment of the hope of Israel– and it is the feeling of hope that is about to come to pass that makes the story of Jesus’ birth so memorable. Isaiah spoke of the one who would prepare the way of the Lord (Isaiah 40:3-5) and Malachi speaks of the Elijah to come (Malachi 4:5-6): the angel Gabriel told Zechariah that his son would fulfill these things (Luke 1:13-17).

As a good Jewish girl, Mary would know all the predictions that were made about the Messiah– born to be the King, the One favored by God (cf. Isaiah 9:1-5, 11:1-10, etc.). And then the angel Gabriel comes to her and tells her that the child she will bear by the Holy Spirit will fulfill these things. He will be called great, the Son of the Most High. He would receive the throne of David. His Kingdom would never end.

These promises were no longer in the distant future. They were here in the flesh. God’s great plan was being realized in the flesh (Ephesians 3:11)!

The Good News of Jesus of Nazareth begins here. In the messages of the angel Gabriel and the Holy Spirit through Zechariah, Mary, Simeon, and Anna, we learn how Jesus will overturn the way the world works (Luke 1:47-55), suffer and die (Luke 2:35), but would rule over a Kingdom without end (Luke 1:30-33), and would be light of revelation to both Jew and Gentile (Luke 2:31-32, 38). Redemption was here!

Jesus of Nazareth was not born on December 25, but we can take advantage of the focus on Jesus’ birth to proclaim the message of His birth, life, death, resurrection, and lordship, just as Gabriel and the Holy Spirit did in those days of pregnant expectation so long ago. Let us find our hope in God’s redemption through Jesus Christ, and proclaim the wonder of Jesus in our lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry