The greatest weekend in salvation history was predicted by King David the prophet in Psalm 16 almost a thousand years before it happened. In Gethsemane we see His trust (Psalm 16:1-6); up to Gabbatha, we see him unmovable (16:7-8); at Golgotha, we see His joy (16:9a); in the “Garden Tomb,” we see Him risen (16:9b-10); and in the Glory, we see Him rejoicing (19:11)!
Life of Christ Comments Off on THEY’RE BAAAAACK!: The American Atheists Christmas Billboard 2013
by Gordon Franz
During the Christmas season of 2010 there was a billboard in New Jersey on one of the approaches to the Lincoln Tunnel to New York City. It had three wise men riding their camels in the starlit night toward an open-sided shelter with a gabled thatched roof next to a couple of palm trees; a donkey was tied to the stall, a bight star overhead, and Mary and Joseph watching over the new-born Baby Jesus. Then I saw the words: “You KNOW it’s a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON!” It was signed by the American Atheists and said they were “Reasonable since 1963.” Well, they’re baaaack! This Christmas season the same sign have been spotted in Sacramento, California.
“Come now, and let us REASON together,” says the LORD
The atheists want us to celebrate REASON this season. The prophet Isaiah set forth God’s challenge to His wayward people Israel when he proclaimed: “’Come now, and let us REASON together,’ says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool’” (1:18). Just as God wanted to reason with His wayward people in the 8th century BC, so today, God welcomes the opportunity to reason with atheists in the 21st century AD. The Lord has not changed and He is still long-suffering and is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). That includes every member of the American Atheists!
One of the ways God reasoned with His people was by predictive prophecy. Over 70 times the prophet Ezekiel, at the beginning of the 6th century BC, says that God gave predictive prophecy so that when the prophecies were fulfilled, the people, both Jews and Gentiles, may “know that I am the LORD.” Predictive prophecy was given because it demonstrates that the Lord Jesus is God who knows and reveals the future and is sovereignly acting in history. This might deflate the atheist’s ego because there is Someone greater than the human-centered atheist. It would also show that they would have to be accountable to Someone greater than themselves. Humbling thought!
The events surrounding the birth of the Lord Jesus were foretold by the holy Hebrew prophets as they were borne along by the Holy Spirit hundreds of years before the Lord Jesus was born (2 Peter 1:19-21). The prophet Isaiah, who recorded that God wanted to reason with His people, gave some of the most powerful and profound prophecies about the Person and work of the Lord Jesus.
King David was also a prophet and the Spirit of God took him beyond himself and his own experience when he composed Psalm 40 (Cf. Acts 2:29, 30; cf. Matt. 22:41-46). In verses 6-8, David sang: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. Then I said, ‘Behold, I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart’.” The Divine commentary on this passage, written a thousand years later, is found in Hebrews 10:1-18. The Spirit of God changed the 6th verse of the psalm and said: “But a body You have prepared for Me” (Heb. 10:5). Thus the Son, not David, is speaking to God the Father and said He would do the Father’s will. The Father prepared a body for His Son in the womb of Mary. Her conception was by the Holy Spirit.
During the reign of King Ahaz, the prophet Isaiah challenged the king to test the Lord by asking for a sign. The king, with false piety, refused. Isaiah then turned to those in the royal court, including Prince Hezekiah, and announced a profound sign to the House of David: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and honey He shall eat [= His humanity], that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good [= His divinity]” (7:14). Matthew records the fulfillment of this sign when an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told him that Mary will conceive the Lord Jesus by the Holy Spirit while she was a virgin. When he quotes Isaiah 7:14 from the Septuagint, he uses the Greek word parthenos which can only mean a virgin (1:20-23).
There are actually three aspects to the nature of this Child in these verses. First, He would be virgin born. Second, He would have a humble beginning. And third, He would have a sinless nature, thus divine. The first part of verse 15 states: “Curds and honey He shall eat.” These are the foods of the poor, not a symbol of a royal diet. The sign to shepherds was that He would be born in poor circumstances (Luke 2:10-12), not royal surroundings. When Mary dedicated her first-born in the Temple, she offered two turtle doves, the offering of the poor (Luke 2:22-24; cf. Lev. 12:8). The wise men did not arrive until a year, to a year and a half after the birth of the Lord Jesus, before they presented Jesus with gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Verse 15 goes on to say, “that He may know to refuse the evil and choose the good.” In this passage Isaiah is pointing out the sinless nature of the Child. Unlike us (and Hezekiah and Isaiah’s children), who by nature are sinful human beings that choose evil and refuse the good (Rom. 1-3), this Child will have a sinless nature as demonstrated by the fact that He chooses good and refuses evil.
Later, Isaiah would prophesy the dual nature of the Lord Jesus and His names. He would be fully God and fully Man. “For unto us a Child is born [= His humanity], Unto us a Son is given [= His divinity]; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6).
J. A. Alexander, in his commentary on Isaiah (1981, vol. 1, page 134), so eloquently summarizes this verse: “These words are strikingly appropriate to Jesus Christ, as the promised child, emphatically born for us and given to us, as the Son of God and the Son of Man, as being wonderful in His person, work and sufferings; a counselor, prophet, authoritative teacher of the truth, a wise administrator of the church, and confidential adviser of the individual believer – a real man, and yet the Mighty God; eternal in His own existence, and the giver of eternal life to others; the great peace-maker between God and man, between Jew and gentile, the umpire between nations, the abolisher of war, and the giver of internal peace to all who being justified by faith have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).”
A contemporary of Isaiah, the prophet Micah, would predict the place of the birth of the eternal Messiah: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting” (5:2 [5:1 Heb.]). There were three Bethlehems in the Land of Israel during the time of the prophet Micah. One was in the tribal territory of Zebulun (Josh. 19:15); another one was in Benjamin (Neh. 7:26); and the last in Judah (Josh. 15: 60 LXX). Micah singled out the tribal territory of Judah as the place where Messiah was to be born.
When the wise men visited Jerusalem after the birth of the Lord Jesus they inquired “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him” (Matt. 2:2). The paranoid schizophrenic King Herod heard this and was afraid, so inquired of the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah was to be born (2:3-4). They gave Herod the correct answer, Bethlehem of Judah, and even quoted the prophecy of Micah 5:2, yet they were oblivious to the Messiah because they did not act on their knowledge of Micah’s prediction in the Word of God!
The reason the Messiah, the everlasting Ruler in Israel, was to be born in Bethlehem was because He was to be from the House and lineage of King David (Luke 2:4).
The Son said, “Behold, I have come … to do Your will, O God”
The Holy Spirit gives a divine commentary on Psalm 40 in the Book of Hebrews and explains the purpose that the Lord Jesus came to earth (10:1-18). He was to do the will of the Father and replace the sacrificial system instituted by Moses, which could only atone for (or cover) sins, but could never take away sins or make the sinner perfect.
The Lord Jesus was a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, thus His death on the cross was an infinitely perfect sacrifice that paid for all the sins of all humanity, once and for all and it was never to be repeated. There was no more need for any sacrifices after that. After His bodily resurrection from the dead, He sat down at the right hand of the Father and is waiting till His enemies are made His footstool (10:9-13; cf. Ps. 110).
The prophet Isaiah, looking down the corridors of time, saw the cross work of the Lord Jesus as well (Isa. 52:13-53:12). What this work would accomplish was the salvation of any or all who would put their trust in the Lord Jesus as their Savior. Isaiah writes: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (53:6). Isaiah elsewhere tells us that all our righteousness, all the best we can do, is as filthy rags in God’s sight (64:6).
After David’s sin with Bathsheba, he confessed his sins before the Lord (Ps. 51), and trusted Him to forgive his sins. When David realizes that God had forgiven him, he rejoiced by singing: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit (Ps. 32:1-2).
The way of salvation, a home in Heaven, the forgiveness of sins, and peace with God is open to all who put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. This invitation is as broad as “whosoever will may come” (even the American Atheists can come to Jesus), but narrow as Jesus’ statement: “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Have you believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior? (Acts 4:12; 16:30).
Jesus is the REASON for the Season!
Perhaps Christians should put up billboards with this powerful and pointed response: “You KNOW He’s the Truth. This Season Celebrate the REASON for the Season – the LORD JESUS CHRIST!”
Life of Christ Comments Off on THE SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS – HISTORICAL FACT OR LEGENDARY FICTION?
by Gordon Franz
In the December 2008 issue of National Geographic there was a well illustrated article on the recent excavations at the Herodian. This was the final burial place of Herod the Great, located 5 ½ kilometers southeast of Bethlehem as the angels fly. In the article, the author made this bold statement, reflecting current historical and theological understanding: “Herod is best known for slaughtering every male infant in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill Jesus. He is almost certainly innocent of this crime” (Mueller 2008:42). Was Herod the Great really innocent of this crime, or did this criminal act actually happen?
Michael Grant, a popular writer on historical themes says of the Massacre of the Innocents: “The tale is not history but myth or folk-lore” (1971:12). He went on to say, Herod became known as “Herod the Wicked, villain of many a legend, including the Massacre of the Innocents: the story is invented, though it is based, in one respect, on what is likely to be a historical fact, since Jesus Christ was probably born in one of the last years of Herod’s reign” (1971:228-229). Elsewhere he says, “Matthew’s story of the Massacre of the Innocents by Herod the Great, because he was afraid of a child born in Bethlehem ‘to be King of the Jews’, is a myth allegedly fulfilling a prophecy by Jeremiah and mirroring history’s judgment of the great but evil potentate Herod, arising from many savage acts during the last years before his death in 4 BC” (1999:71). Was the slaughter of the innocents a tale, myth, folk-lore, or legend? Or was it a historical event?
Unfortunately archaeologists have yet to excavate the archives of the Jerusalem Post from the year 4 BC! Nor does the first century AD Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus record this event in any of his writings. Even though secular history is silent on this event it does not mean it did not occur. When the life of Herod the Great is examined, this event is very consistent with his character and actions so this is pointing to the fact that it did happen as recorded in Holy Scripture.
The Gospel of Matthew records the event in this manner: “Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more’” (2:16-18, NKJV).
In 1988 I was attending a lecture at the Jerusalem Center for Biblical Studies by Dr. Isaiah Gafni, a leading authority on the Second Temple period at the Hebrew University. His topic was the life of Herod the Great. Sitting next to me was Dr. Bruce Narramore, a Christian psychologist from Biola University.
Dr. Gafni recounted a seminar that was held at Hebrew University a few years before. Attending it were historians and archaeologists of the Second Temple period as well as psychiatrists and psychologists. They laid out (figuratively speaking) Herod the Great on the psychiatric couch and preceded to psychoanalyze him. The historians explained a recurring pattern in the life of Herod. He would hear a rumor that somebody was going to bump him off and take over his throne, but Herod would kill that person first. He would then go into depression. After awhile he would come out of his depression and would build, build, build. He would hear another rumor and would kill that person, then go into another depression. After awhile he would come out of this depression and would build, build, build. This cycle repeated itself a number of times in which numerous people were killed, including one of his ten wives as well as three of his sons! The shrinks diagnosed Herod the Great as a paranoid schizophrenic.
After the lecture I turned to Dr. Narramore and asked his analysis of Herod: “Well, do you think he was a paranoid schizophrenic?” Bruce laughed and said, “No, he was a jerk!” [That is a direct quote!]. Recently a historical / psychological analysis was done on Herod the Great and he was diagnosed with Paranoid Personality Disorder (Kasher and Witztum 2007:431).
The Historical Plausibility of the Slaughter of the Innocents
It is true; Josephus does not record the slaughter of the innocents in Bethlehem. He does, however, record a number of ruthless murders by Herod in order to keep his throne secure.
Herod was crowned “King of the Jews” by the Roman Senate in 40 BC in Rome. He was, however, a king without a kingdom. Upon his return to the Land of Israel, he was given a Roman army and was eventually able to capture Jerusalem. The first order of business was to eliminate his Hasmonean predecessors. Mattathias Antigonus was executed with the help of Mark Antony and Herod killed 45 leading men of Antigonus’ party in 37 BC (Antiquities 15:5-10; LCL 8:5-7). He had the elderly John Hyrcanus II strangled over an alleged plot to overthrow Herod in 30 BC (Antiquities 15:173-178; LCL 8:83-85).
Herod continued to purge the Hasmonean family. He eliminated his brother-in-law, Aristobulus, who was at the time an 18 year old High Priest. He was drowned in 35 BC by Herod’s men in the swimming pool of the winter palace in Jericho because Herod thought the Romans would favor Aristobulus as ruler of Judea instead of him (Antiquities 15:50-56; LCL 8:25-29; Netzer 2001:21-25). He also had his Hasmonean mother-in-law, Alexandra (the mother of Mariamme) executed in 28 BC (Antiquities 15:247-251; LCL 8:117-119). He even killed his second wife Miriamme in 29 BC. She was his beloved Hasmonean bride whom he loved to death [literally, no pun intended] (Antiquities 15:222-236; LCL 8:107-113).
Around 20 BC, Herod remitted one third of the people’s taxes in order to curry favor with them, however, he did set up an internal spy network and eliminated people suspected of revolt, most being taken to Hyrcania, a fortress in the Judean Desert (Antiquities 15:365-372; LCL 8:177-181).
Herod also had three of his sons killed. The first two, Alexander and Aristobulus, the sons of Mariamme, were strangled in Sebaste (Samaria) in 7 BC and buried at the Alexandrium (Antiquities 16:392-394; LCL 8:365-367; Netzer 2001:68-70). The last, only five days before Herod’s own death, was Antipater who was buried without ceremony at Hyrcania (Antiquities 17:182-187; LCL 8:457-459; Netzer 2001:75; Gutfeld 2006:46-61).
Herod the Great became extremely paranoid during the last four years of his life (8-4 BC). On one occasion, in 7 BC, he had 300 military leaders executed (Antiquities 16:393-394; LCL 8:365). On another, he had a number of Pharisees executed in the same year after it was revealed that they predicted to Pheroras’ wife [Pheroras was Herod’s youngest brother and tetrarch of Perea] “that by God’s decree Herod’s throne would be taken from him, both from himself and his descendents, and the royal power would fall to her and Pheroras and to any children they might have” (Antiquities 17:42-45; LCL 8:393). With prophecies like these circulating within his kingdom, is it any wonder Herod wanted to eliminate Jesus when the wise men revealed the new “king of the Jews” had been born (Matt. 2:1-2)?! (For a full discussion of these historical events, see France 1979 and Maier 1998).
Macrobius (ca. AD 400), one of the last pagan writers in Rome, in his book Saturnalia, wrote: “When it was heard that, as part of the slaughter of boys up to two years old, Herod, king of the Jews, had ordered his own son to be killed, he [the Emperor Augustus] remarked, ‘It is better to be Herod’s pig [Gr. hys] than his son’ [Gr. huios]” (2.4.11; cited in Brown 1993:226). Macrobius may have gotten some of his historical facts garbled, but he could have given us a chronological key as well. If he was referring to the death of Antipater in 4 BC, the slaughter of the Innocents would have been one of the last, if not the last, brutal killings of Herod before he died. What is also interesting is the word-play in the quote attributed to Augustus- “pig” and “son” are similar sounding words in Greek. Herod would not kill a pig because he kept kosher, at least among the Jews; yet he had no qualms killing his own sons!
Why did Josephus not record this event?
There are several possible explanations as to why Josephus did not record this event. First, Josephus, writing at the end of the first century AD may not have been aware of the slaughter in Bethlehem at the end of the first century BC. There were some pivotal events in the first century AD that Josephus does not record. For example, the episode of the golden Roman shields in Jerusalem which was the cause of the bad blood between Herod Antipas and Pontus Pilate (cf. Luke 23:12). It was the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria that recorded this event (Embassy to Gaius 38:299-305; Maier 1969:109-121). It should also be pointed out that Josephus got some of his information from Nicolas of Damascus who was Herod the Greats friend and personal historian. Nicolas may not have recorded such a terrible deed so as not to blacken the reputation of his friend any more than he had too (Brown 1993:226, footnote 34).
Second, the massacre might not have been as large as later church history records. The Martyrdom of Matthew states that 3,000 baby were slaughtered. The Byzantine liturgy places the number at 14,000 and the Syrian tradition says 64,000 innocent children were killed (Brown 1993:205). Yet Professor William F. Albright, the dean of American archaeology in the Holy Land, estimates that the population of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth to be about 300 people (Albright and Mann 1971:19). The number of male children, two years old or younger, would be about six or seven (Maier 1998:178, footnote 25). This would hardly be a newsworthy event in light of what else was going on at the time. Please do not get me wrong, one innocent child being killed is a horrific tragedy.
Based on the date of Jesus’ birth provided by Clement of Alexandria (ca. 200 AD), Jesus would have been born on May 14, 6 BC (Faulstich 1998:109-112). The wise men from the east do not arrive in Jerusalem to visit Herod and then go on to Bethlehem until at least 50 days after the birth of the Lord Jesus, but more than likely a year to a year and a half later. When Mary performed the ritual of purification for her firstborn in the Temple she offered two turtledoves, the offering of the poor (Luke 2:22-24; cf. Lev. 12:8). If the wise men had already arrived with their gold, frankincense and myrrh, Mary would have been obligated to offer a lamb and would have had the means to do so (Lev. 12:6). Herod inquired of the wise men when the star first appeared and instructed them to go and find the “King of the Jews” and return and tell him so he could go and worship the young Child as well (Matt. 2:7-9). Herod realized he was tricked when the wise men returned home another way after they were warned in a dream of Herod’s evil intentions (2:12). Herod calculated the age of the young Child based on the testimony of the wise men as to when the star first appeared. He ordered the killing of all male children in Bethlehem and its immediate vicinity who were two years old and younger (2:16). Herod dies in March of 4 BC, just under two years from the birth of Jesus.
Right before he dies, Herod realizes nobody will mourn for him at his death. He hatched a diabolical scheme to make sure everybody will morn at his death, even if it was not for him. He ordered all the notable Jews from all parts of his kingdom to come to him in Jericho under penalty of death. He placed them in the hippodrome of Jericho and left instructions for the soldiers to kill all the notables upon his death (Antiquities 17:174-181; LCL 8:451-455; Netzer 2001:64-67). Fortunately, after the death of Herod, his sister Salome countermanded the order and released the Jewish leaders. Ironically, Herod died on the Feast of Purim and there was much rejoicing at the death of Herod the Wicked (Esther 8:15-17; Faulstich 1998:110)!
Five days before he died, Herod executed his oldest son Antipater (Antiquities 17:187; LCL 8:457-459). During that time period he also executed, by burning alive, two leading rabbis and then executed their students for participating in the “eagle affair” in the Temple (Antiquities 17:149-167; LCL 8:439-449; Wars 1:655; LCL 2:311).
Paul L. Maier has pointed out, “Josephus wrote for a Greco-Roman audience, which would have little concern for infant deaths. Greeks regularly practiced infanticide as a kind of birth control, particularly in Sparta, while the Roman father had the right not to lift his baby off the floor after birth, letting it die” (1998:179).
Josephus, even if he knew of the slaughter of the innocents, would have deemed this episode unimportant in light of all the other monumental events going on at the time of the death of Herod the Great, thus not including it in his writings.
The slaughter of the innocents is unattested in secular records, but the historical plausibility of this event happening is consistent with the character and actions of Herod the Great. Besides killing his enemies, he had no qualms in killing family members and friends as well. Herod would not have given a second thought about killing a handful of babies in a small, obscure village south of Jerusalem in order to keep his throne secure for himself, or his sons, even if it was one of the last dastardly deeds he committed before he died. As Herod lay dying, raked in pain and agony, the men of God and those with special wisdom opined that Herod was suffering these things because it was “the penalty that God was exacting of the king for his great impiety” (Antiquities 17:170; LCL 8:449-451).
Albright, William; and C. S. Mann
1971 The Anchor Bible. Matthew. New York: Doubleday.
1993 The Birth of the Messiah. A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. New York: Doubleday.
1998 Studies in O.T. and N.T. Chronology. Pp. 97-117 in Chronos, Kairos, Christos II. Edited by E. J. Vardaman. Macon, GA: Mercer University.
1979 Herod and the Children of Bethlehem. Novum Testamentum 31/2:98-120.
1971 Herod the Great. New York: American Heritage.
1999 Jesus. London: Phoenix.
2006 Hyrcania’s Mysterious Tunnels. Searching for the Treasures of the Copper Scrolls. Biblical Archaeology Review 32/5:46-61.
1976 Jewish Wars, Books 1-3. Vol. 2. Trans. by H. Thackeray. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 203.
1980 Antiquities of the Jews 15-17. Vol. 8. Trans. by R. Marcus and A. Wikgren. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 410.
Kasher, Aryeh; with Witztum, Eliezer
2007 King Herod: A Persecuted Persecutor. Trans. by K. Gold. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter.
1969 The Episode of the Golden Roman Shields in Jerusalem. Harvard Theological Review 62:109-121.
1998 Herod and the Infants of Bethlehem. Pp. 169-189 in Chronos, Kairos, Christos II. Edited by E. J. Vardaman. Macon, GA: Mercer University.
2008 Herod. The Holy Land’s Visionary Builder. National Geographic 214/6:34-59.
2001 The Palaces of the Hasmoneans and Herod the Great. Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi Institute and Israel Exploration Society.nz
Life of Christ, The Seven Churches of Asia Minor – Rev. 1-3 Comments Off on THE LIFE AND LAND OF THE LORD JESUS
By Gordon Franz
The following document is in an outline format and does refer to slides; however, I believe this content would be useful to anyone interested and pray that it will be a blessing.
Life of Christ Comments Off on THE IMPERIAL CULT AND THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST Romans 1:3-4
By Gordon Franz
In 1987, I was participating in the “Who is the Pharaoh of the Exodus?” conference in Memphis, TN. During one of our lunch breaks, a group of us, who were alumni of the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem, went to a local eatery. Sitting opposite me was Bishop Mesrob Mutafyan, a bishop of the Armenian Church in Istanbul, Turkey. (He has since been elevated to one of five Patriarchs in the Armenian Church). During our conversation, the subject of liturgy and creeds came up. Since I was from a non-liturgical church I asked him why they repeated the liturgy and creeds over and over again. His answer was very helpful. He said that historically, many people in the churches had never learned to read. When they repeated the liturgy (which is mostly Scripture verses) over and over again, it helped them memorize the Word of God. By repeating the creeds, the participants became grounded in the doctrinal truths of their faith.
One creed that the Western Church recites is the so-called Apostle’s Creed. While it was not composed by the early apostles, one church historian described it as “by far the best popular summary of the Christian faith ever made within so brief a space,” and went on to say “It is not a word of God to men, but a word of men to God, in response to His revelation” (Schaff 1990:1:15, 16). It is solid theology in a concise creed. I believe that Romans 1:3-4 was one of the original creeds concerning the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The creed in Romans 1:3-4 is composed of two lines with three clauses in each line and a summary statement at the end. It was formulated by either the Apostolic Church in Jerusalem, or by the great Hebraic minds of the apostle’s Peter (cf. Matt. 16:16) or Paul, based on the prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures (Romans 1:2).
“Concerning His Son:
A. Who was born
B. of the seed of David
C. according to the flesh,
A’. and declared
B’. to be the Son of God (with power)
C’. according to the Spirit of holiness, (by the resurrection from the
Jesus Christ our Lord.”
In the literary structure of this creed, the central thought of each line is the Person of the Lord Jesus in His role as the “Seed of David” (His humanity) and the “Son of God” (His deity). In order to appreciate these two roles, we must understand the world of the First Century church in Rome, the church that Paul addressed in this letter. They, more than any other church in the Roman Empire, would understand the imperial cult and emperor worship and the sharp contrast Paul was making in these verses between the Lord Jesus and all the Roman emperors.
The “son of God” in the First Century Roman World
On March 14, 44 BC the tyrannical dictator, Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of men, lead by Brutus and Cassius, who identified themselves as the “liberators.” Brutus commemorated this event by issuing a coin with a liberty cap, flanked by two daggers and the Latin words EID MAR [“Eids of March”] (Vagi 1999:2:198, coin 95). After Caesar’s death, the Roman senate “voted to give Caesar divine honors” (Plutarch, Caesar 67:4; LCL 7:603; see also Suetonius, Deified Julius 88; LCL 1:119). In other words, they added him to the Roman pantheon as a god! This was the first time in Roman history that a mortal was deified. This Roman Senate decision would significantly affect the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ in the years to come.
Plutarch, a Greek writer who wrote a series of books about the lives of famous Greek and Roman personalities, recounted events of “divine ordering” (his words) surrounding the death of Julius Caesar. Among other things, he states there was a “great comet, which showed itself in great splendor for seven nights after Caesar’s murder” (Caesar 69:3; LCL 7:605-607). This was interpreted as a sign that Julius Caesar was taken up to the heavens to join the Roman gods. His adopted son, Octavian, minted coins with the comet on it and the Latin words DIVVS IVLIVS [“divine Julius”]! (Kreitzer 1990:213; Vagi 1999:2:221, coin 278).
Octavian (reigned from 27 BC to AD 14), the grand-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, and known to us from the New Testament as Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1), minted coins with the title DIVI F [“son of God”] on them in Latin (Vagi 1999:2:217-231). He considered himself the son of the divine Julius Caesar. Some consider that Caesar Augustus was Satan’s puppet and counterfeit “messiah” to distract people from the real Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Suetonius (AD 75-140), a Roman historian, reports that after Augustus died and was cremated, an ex-praetor took an oath that he had seen the form of the Emperor on his way to heaven (Deified Augustus 100:4; LCL 1:283-285).
The next emperor was Tiberius (reigned from AD 14-37). He was the son of Livia, the stepson, son-in-law and heir of Augustus. Thus began the Julian dynasty. People married so they were somehow related to by blood or adoption to Augustus and thus by adoption to Julius Caesar, and would consider themselves the “seed of Julius.’ When Tiberius died, however, he was not deified by the Roman Senate.
Caligula (reigned from AD 37-41), the adopted grandson and heir of Tiberius, could not wait to die so he deified himself. He ordered statues of himself placed in temples, shrines and synagogues so people could worship him. After he was assassinated, the Roman Senate cursed him and had his name erased from all inscriptions and his statues smashed.
Claudius (reigned from AD 41-54) was the grandson of Livia (wife of Octavian), Mark Antony and Octavia (grand niece of Julius Caesar). He was the nephew of Tiberius and the granduncle and adoptive father of Nero. Claudius was also an uncle of Emperor Caligula and was made emperor by the Praetorian guards after Caligula was assassinated. He had physical disabilities, but was an effective administrator, however brutal at times. Suetonius states that after Claudius died, he was “buried with regal pomp and enrolled among the gods, an honor neglected and finally annulled by Nero, but later restored to him by Vespasian (Deified Claudius 45: LCL 2:81). Seneca (4 BC – AD 65), on the other hand, wrote a religio-political satire that dripped with sarcasm, entitled Pumpkinfication. (LCL 15:437-483). The title of this book was a slam on emperor worship. The word “pumpkinfication” was chosen instead of deification. In Seneca’s satire, Claudius is considered a pumpkin instead of a god!
Permit me to use my sanctified imagination for a minute. I would like to think the book made the International Herald Tribune best seller list for AD 55 when it was published. Perhaps it was a hot item in the bookstores of the Roman colony of Corinth when the Apostle Paul was there in the winter of AD 57-58. Since he wanted to improve his Latin before he went to Rome, he bought a copy of the book and read it in order to get a sense of the imperial cult. When he penned the letter to the church in Rome, he began with the creed concerning God’s Son: “Born of the Seed of David according to the flesh, declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” What a contrast to the recently deified Emperor Claudius!
Nero (reigned from AD 54-68), the adopted son of Claudius, and some say his natural born son (Burns 1996: 6-11), was not deified by the Roman Senate when he died, but in fact, was cursed by them. Following his death there was civil war which saw three emperors in quick succession: Galba, Otho and Vitellius (from June AD 68 to December AD 69), until General Vespasian was hailed emperor by the Senate.
Emperor Vespasian (reigned from AD 69-79) was born a common man and not related by blood or adoption to the Julio-Claudian dynasty. In other words, he was not of the “seed of Julius”! He came to realize that emperor worship and the imperial cult was a scam. Suetonius reports that Vespasian “did not cease his jokes even when in apprehension of death and in extreme danger; for when among other portents … a comet appeared in the heavens, he declared that [the comet was an omen about] the king of the Parthians, who wore his hair long, whereas I am bald.” When he finally realized his number was up, he said: “Woe’s me. Me think I am turning into a god” (Vespasian 23:4; LCL 2:319; and also Dio Cassius, Roman History 66:3; LCL 8:295). If he was going to become a god, what did he have to worry about?!
After his death, he was cremated and his ashes put in an urn and the urn placed in the family mausoleum in Rome. A coin was minted by his son Titus with Vespasian’s urn on the reverse side, flanked by two laurel branches (Mattingly and Sydenham 1926:123, coin 62; Vagi 1999:2:311, coin 958). This coin might have been Vespasian’s last joke from the grave. Whereas there was a posthumous coin of Julius Caesar being taken to heaven on a comet to join the gods, Vespasian knew he would be relegated to ashes in an urn! The Roman Senate, however, did deify him.
Vespasian’s two sons, Titus (reigned from AD 79-81) and Domitian (reigned from AD 81-96), were very much into the imperial cult. When Titus died, his brother Domitian constructed an arch in his brother’s honor that commemorated the victory of the Romans over the Jewish people and the destruction of Herod’s Temple. The tops of each side of the arch contained the inscription: F. DIVI [“the son of the god”]. In the center of the interior of the arch, Titus is on the back of an eagle being taken to heaven (Kreitzer 1990: 210). When Domitian became emperor, he, like Caligula, could not wait to die in order to become a god, so he deified himself in AD 86. And Domitian, like Caligula, was cursed by the Roman Senate after he died. The Emperor worship of Domitian is the background to the book of Revelation (Franz 2006:73-87).
By sharp contrast, Paul writes that the Lord Jesus was “born of the Seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” It was the covenant promise of God to David and the bodily resurrection that set Him apart from all the Roman emperors.
One other aspect of the Person of Christ that set Him apart from the Roman emperors is bringing peace with God to the individual. Some of the emperors could boast that they brought peace to the Roman world “on land and sea”, but one thing they lacked was the ability to bring peace to the hearts of men and women. That, only God manifest in the flesh – the Lord Jesus, could do. Later in the epistle to the Romans, Paul wrote: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1).
The bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated that the payment for sins on Calvary’s cross had been paid in full and accepted by God the Father. It also demonstrated that Satan had been defeated and death vanquished. When people put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, they are justified, or declared righteous, by a Holy God. Have you trusted the Lord Jesus as your Savior?
1996 Was Nero the Natural Son of Claudius? The Celator 10/12: 6-11.
1995 Roman History. Books 61-70. Vol. 8. Trans. by E. Cary. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 176.
2006 Propaganda, Power and the Perversion of Biblical Truths: Coins Illustrating the Book of Revelation. Bible and Spade 19/3: 73-87.
1990 Apotheosis of the Roman Emperor. Biblical Archaeologist 53/4: 210-217.
Mattingly, Harold; and Sydenham, Edward
1926 The Roman Imperial Coinage. Vespasian to Hadrian. Vol. 2. London: Spink and Sons. Reprinted 1997.
1994 Lives. Alexander and Caesar. Vol. 7. Trans. by B. Perrin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 99.
1990 The Creeds of Christendom with a History and Critical Notes. Vol. 1. Sixth edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. Reprint of 1931 edition.
1997 Apocolocyntosis. Pp. 432-483. Trans. by W. H. D. House. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 15.
1989 Lives of the Caesars. Vol. 1. Trans. by J. C. Rolfe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 31.
1992 Lives of the Caesars. Vol. 2. Trans. by J. C. Rolfe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 38.
1999 Coinage and History of the Roman Empire. 2 vols. Sidney, OH: Coin World.
Cracked Pot Archaeology, Life of Christ Comments Off on Bloodline – Serious Documentary or Hollywood Hoax?
By Gordon Franz
Biblical archaeology can be an exciting subject to study and even more exciting to participate in an actual excavation of biblical significance. Hollywood was able to capture the excitement and adventure of biblical archaeology in the now-famous fictitious Indiana Jones movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Sometimes Hollywood has a sinister motive when dealing with the subject of archaeology and the Bible. Recently a new archaeological movie was released that claims to cast doubts on two of the basic tenets of Christianity: the deity of the Lord Jesus and His bodily resurrection. “Bloodline” is produced by 1244 Films; the director and narrator of the movie is Bruce Burgess, and the producer is Rene Barnett.
The premise of the movie, that purports to be a serious documentary, is that there is “incontrovertible proof” that “totally refutes” Christianity. The movie claims that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had a child, or children. After the crucifixion of Jesus, Mary hid the body of Jesus and she and her child, or children, moved to France. The Knights Templar rediscovered the body of Jesus and brought his mummified body to Rennes-Le-Chateau, in southwest France in the 12th century AD.
Sounds familiar? This movie claims to have the “proof” for the fictitious novel by Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code. The film suggests that the mummified body of Mary Magdalene was recently discovered in the area of Rennes-le-Chateau along with other 1st century AD artifacts from the Jerusalem area that were associated with the wedding of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
I attended the May 5th press conference for the movie in New York City. In the press packet was a “For Screening Only” edition of the movie. I have seen the movie several times and will base by critique on that edition.
What is the “Incontrovertible” Evidence?
I will only summarize the “evidence” presented in the movie. For a detailed and documented refutation of the claims in this film, see my lengthy review
The “Body” of Mary Magdalene
In 1999 a British adventurer named “Ben Hammott” (not his real name) allegedly found a cave with treasures in it — as well as a burial with a shroud that had a red Knights Templar cross on it — in the hills to the east of Rennes-le-Chateau. When he returned with Bruce Burgess in 2006, “Ben Hammott” cut away part of the shroud and exposed the head and hands of a mummified person. They also took a hair sample from the body and submitted it to the Paleo-DNA Labs at Lakehead University in Canada for analysis. The mitochondrial DNA from the hair strand suggested “the Middle Eastern maternal origins of the individual based on haplotyping information.” The mummified body was on a slab of marble that suggests the individual was venerated by someone in the past. The conclusion that was drawn from this “evidence” was that this was the body of Mary Magdalene.
This mummified body (if in fact it is a real body) could not be that of Mary Magdalene, or any other Jewish person for that matter. During the Second Temple period (the time of Jesus), Jewish people never mummified their dead. At the burial of Jesus normal Jewish burial customs were followed (John 19:38-40), and one would assume the same thing would have occurred with Mary Magdalene’s burial. Jewish burial entailed letting the flesh decay and after a year, the family gathered up the bones and placed them in bone boxes called ossuaries. This practice was called ossilegium, or secondary burials.
The Artifacts from Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s Wedding
The second startling discovery was a wooden chest that contained a small bowl or cup, an ungenterium, a glass phial with a parchment inside and about 30 coins. These 1st century AD artifacts, probably originating from the area of Jerusalem, were claimed to be from the wedding of Jesus and Mary Magdalene!
Before we review these objects, we should address the issue as to whether Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. This is the premise of The Da Vinci Code, but there is no biblical evidence – or other first-century AD evidence — for this idea so it should be dismissed.
“Ben Hammott” allegedly discerned “clues” in the statues and pictures on the wall of the Mary Magdalene church in Rennes-le-Chateau that led him and the producer on an archaeological scavenger hunt for bottles that provided further clues that led them to the wooden chest.
In the third bottle there was a parchment that allegedly contained the confession of the priest that reburied the “body” of Mary Magdalene in the Knights Templar tomb. It said: “The resurrection of Jesus was a trick, it was Mary Magdalene who took his body from his tomb. The disciples were fooled. Later, the body of Jesus was discovered by the Templars and then hidden three times. The Knights protected a great secret which I have found. Not in Jerusalem. The Tomb is here. Parts of the body are safe. Rome knows all about this, but they can not afford to let the secret be known. They threatened to kill if the location of the tomb was revealed.”
This is the over riding message that “Bloodline” is trying to convey. Jesus did not come back from the dead, thus He is not God. This statement goes contrary to what Dr. Luke writes about in the beginning of the book of Acts. “To whom [the apostles] He [the Lord Jesus] also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (1:3).
As an archaeologist, my imagination was taxed as I watched the scavenger hunt. Even the messages found rolled up in the bottles looked like they were written with red felt-tipped pens! Once they found the cave that had the chest in it, they used a dowsing rod to locate the exact spot of the chest. After digging a few centimeters, voila, there was the wooden chest! (If only real archaeology could be this easy).
In the press release, it was stated that the chest was “extremely damp and rotten.” When I looked at it during the New York news conference, it did not look rotten (although I did not handle the chest). In the movie, when Hammott was using the petech (a tool used by archaeologists for digging dirt), he hit the wood of the chest. It gave a sound of a solid piece of wood from a box that was hollow inside, and did not give the sound of wood that was “damp and rotten.” If the wood was “damp and rotten” it would have crumbled, or at least left a hole in the top of the chest made by the petech.
The first artifact in the chest was described in the press release as a “simple pottery drinking cup.” The pottery expert that examined it, Professor Gabriel Barkay from Bar Ilan University in Israel, said it could also be a small bowl and stressed that it was a “common” artifact in everyday use by everybody.
Jewish weddings during the Second Temple periods were elaborate and festive affairs. The bride and groom would not have used a common cup made of coarse pottery for their wedding festivities, but rather, one of silver, gold, glass, or Eastern terra sigillata pottery. Using a “common” cup, if it was a cup and not a bowl, would be like a wealthy bride and groom at a wedding today toasting each other with a Styrofoam cup!
The second artifact in the box was identified as an ungenterium. In the 1st century AD it was called a piriform bottle. This object is used to hold unguents, or perfumes, and is used for domestic as well as funerary purposes. They were regularly left in tombs so that the perfumes could counteract the smell of the decomposing flesh.
This piriform bottle could not have been the object used by “Mary of Bethany, alias Mary Magdalene” (according to the movie) to anoint Jesus for His burial for three reasons. First, the piriform bottle is made of clay, but the Bible says that the vessel Mary of Bethany anointed Jesus with was made of alabaster (Matt. 26:7; Mark 14:3). Second, the piriform bottle is completely intact. The Bible says Mary broke it in order to anoint Jesus (Mark 14:3). Finally, the vessel is too small. The Bible says it contained a pound of spikenard, thus the vessel would have been much larger then the one found in the chest (John 12:3).
Professor Barkay was asked how these objects could have made their way to a cave in France. He suggested two possibilities. First, the Knights Templar brought them back to France with them in the 12th century. The second possibility is that they were purchased on the antiquities market in Israel and taken to Europe recently. I am inclined to believe the latter makes more sense.
I suspect, but can not conclusively prove at this point, that this is all a Hollywood hoax. The “mummified body” apparently is made of plastic; the artifacts were probably recently bought on the antiquities market in Jerusalem and placed in a wooden chest that was buried in a cave near Rennes-le-Chateau; and the elaborate archaeological scavenger hunt was concocted by the Hollywood types for suspense and adventure in the movie. Bottom line: this movie should not be taken seriously and comes nowhere close to the exciting adventures of the fictitious Indiana Jones. Skip this flick.
The Agenda of Bloodline
At the end of the movie, Bruce Burgess said, “For the record, I do think that it’s possible that these discoveries, especially the chest and maybe even the tomb were somehow placed there for Ben, and us to find. That doesn’t make them fake in any way. It just means that someone with an agenda wanted this material revealed, but who?”
I can think of three possibilities. First, some secret organization (in the movie it is the fictitious Priory of Sion) who wants to disprove the deity and bodily resurrection of Jesus and will bump off anybody in the way of their agenda. Second, people who want to sell books and movie tickets. There is a third, yet more driving, possibility. Bloodline has an agenda. The message they are trying to get out, disguised as a serious documentary, is that Jesus is not God manifest in human flesh and He did not come back from the dead.
The Conclusion of the Matter
The poster for the movie asks the provocative question: “What if the greatest story ever told was a lie?” I think the wrong question was asked. It should have been, “What if the premise and storyline of ‘Bloodline’ is a lie?” The historical, biblical, and archaeological evidence suggests that this is the case.
The greatest story ever told is still true. The Lord Jesus, in love, left the glories of heaven, humbled Himself, veiled His glory and became a man in order to die on a cross outside of Jerusalem in order to pay for all the sins of humanity (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; Phil. 2:5-11; I John 2:2). Three days later, He was bodily resurrected from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. He left no physical bloodline because He never married Mary Magdalene; He lived a perfect, sinless life here on earth as God manifest in human flesh. However, He does have a spiritual bloodline that is composed of all who have put their trust in Him and Him alone for their salvation (Heb. 2:10). His spiritual children did not earn their salvation, they did not work for it, they did not join a church or be baptized, they simply trusted Jesus to forgive all their sins so He could give them His righteousness so they could enter a perfect Heaven and be in the presence of a holy God forever (Acts 13:38, 39; 16:30, 31; Rom. 4:5; Phil. 3:9; Titus 3:4-7; I John 5:13).
Do not believe the lie of the movie “Bloodline”, but rather, believe the truth of the Word of God, the Bible. Your eternal destiny, Heaven or Hell, will be determined by what you believe.
Life of Christ Comments Off on Jesus IS Yom Kippur
By Gordon Franz
Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It begins at sundown on the eve of the 10th of Tishri on the Jewish calendar. If you are in Jerusalem, it is a day like no other day. It is absolutely quiet and nothing moves, except people walking. There are no cars on the roads. The only vehicles that are allowed are emergency vehicles.
One year I was in Jerusalem on Yom Kippur. The silence was deafening! So much so, that even the birds could be heard singing. I was staying at the Institute of Holy Land Studies on Mount Zion and could hear casual conversations by people across the Hinnom Valley as if we were talking one to another.
The Biblical Yom Kippur
On the LORD’s “Divine Calendar” (Lev. 23), Yom Kippur is observed on the tenth day of the seventh month (Tishri). On this day, no work is to be done and the people are to afflict their souls (Lev. 23:26-32).
When the Tabernacle and Temples stood, the nation of Israel was to follow certain rituals and the High Priest was to offer specific sacrifices on this Day (Lev. 16; Num. 29:7-11). These sacrifices could atone for (cover) sin, but could never take sin away. The Holy Spirit gives a divine commentary on this Day and its services and shows how the Lord Jesus is the fulfillment of Yom Kippur and the perfect sacrifice that paid for all sin and removed sin once and for all (Heb. 9 and 10; especially 9:12, 12; 10:1-4, 12, 14, 18). For a discussion of the Yom Kippur practices during the Second Temple period, see Edersheim 1976:302-329.
Interesting Added Traditions
The Mishnah, the rabbinic commentary on the Bible as well as the Talmud, the commentary on the Mishnah, devotes a whole tractate to this day. The tractates are simply called Yoma, the Day. Perhaps this is the day the Book of Hebrews refers to when it states: “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (10:25). Most commentators suggest “the Day” is either the return of Christ, or the Day of Judgment, or the destruction of Jerusalem, but the context may indicate that it is the Day of Atonement.
Sometime during the Second Temple period, a tradition was added, based on Isaiah 1:18, of tying a scarlet wool cord, or skein, around the horns of the scapegoat that was to be sent into the Wilderness. The tradition stated that if the Lord forgave the nation of Israel sins for that year, the cord turned from scarlet to white (BT Yoma 67a, pp. 314, 315 in Soncino edition). Yet the Talmud records: “Our Rabbis taught: ‘During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot [“for the LORD”] did not come up in the right hand nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white” (BT Yoma 39b, p. 186 in Soncino edition). The Temple was destroyed in AD 70. Forty years prior to that was AD 30. What happened in AD 30 to cause the cord never to change color again and show the nation of Israel that their sins were forgiven by the Lord? At Passover of AD 30, the Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect, spotless Lamb of God, died as the perfect sacrifice to take away sins forever (Heb. 10:1-10; I Cor. 5:7; I Pet. 1:18, 19). After His death, the nation in general, rejected the Lord Jesus as their Messiah and sought salvation by their own works (Rom. 10). Thus, the nation’s sins were not forgiven.
The Prophetic Significance of Yom Kippur
The Feasts of the LORD recorded in Lev. 23 are for Israel, not the Church, and provide a prophetic outline for the re-gathering of Israel back to the Land of Israel (Isa. 11:11; 27:13) and their final salvation. The Lord Jesus, in His great Olivet Discourse, describes a future period of Tribulation for the nation of Israel. At the end of the Great Tribulation, the Lord will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, in order to gather together His elect [in the context, Israel, not the Church] from the four corners of the earth, back to the Land of Israel (Matt. 24:29-31). These ten days of gathering the nation back to the Land, will lead up to the Day of Atonement, when “they will look upon Me (the LORD) whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10-13:1). When was the LORD pierced? The Second Person of the Triune God was pierced on the Cross of Calvary when He voluntarily died in our place (John 19:34; Rev. 1:7; John 10:11, 14-18). It will be on this day in the future, that Israel shall “call upon the name of the LORD” (Jesus, God manifest in human flesh) and “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 10:8-13; 11:26, 27). Then, the nation of Israel will be born in a day (Isa. 66:8).
The Book of Jonah and Yom Kippur
Before Yom Kippur begins, the book of Jonah is studied by the Jewish people. As the sun is setting at the end of Yom Kippur the book is read in the synagogue. There are two reasons for this reading. The first reason is to show that one can not run from God; and the second is to show that God is gracious and merciful when people turn to Him.
What to do on Yom Kippur?
If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, Yeshua ha-Mashioch, you can rejoice that all your sins have been paid for and completely forgiven: past – present – and future sins.
If you have never trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as your sin-bearer, then you need to trust Him as the One who died for all your sins and rose again from the dead three days later. The resurrection demonstrated that sin has been paid for, death vanquished and Satan defeated. The Lord Jesus offers the forgiveness of sins, a home in Heaven and His righteousness to any who trust in Him and not in their own works or merits for eternal life (John 3:16; Isa. 53:6; Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8, 9; Phil. 3:9; I John 5:13).
Again for believers in the Lord Jesus today should read through the Book of Jonah. As you do, there are two thoughts to contemplate: first, “remember that we can run, but we cannot hide from God”. He knows where we are and what we are doing at all times (Ps. 139:7-10). Second: meditate on the grace and mercy of God. In Jonah 4:1-3 the people of Nineveh turned to the LORD; from the king in the palace all the way down to the beggar on the street (Matt. 12:41; Luke 11:32), yet Jonah was displeased with the results of his preaching and was angry with the Lord. Jonah knew his Bible. He knew all about the grace and mercy of God (4:2), yet he did not want God to show grace (giving them what they did not deserve) to these people by extending salvation and forgiveness; nor did Jonah want God to show mercy (not giving them what they did deserve) by executing judgment. Jonah was more interested in watching God nuke Nineveh, then seeing God forgive them. Thus embarrassed, he prayed to the Lord to take his life.
How many times in our daily life do we do something wrong, and we know it’s wrong from the Bible, yet we try to justify our sin, or rationalize it away? We should contemplate the grace and mercy of God in our own life, because just like Jonah experienced another opportunity, Jesus is also the God of the second (and the third, and the fourth, and the fifth, and …) chance (3:1). Truly He is gracious and merciful to His children.
1976 The Temple: It’s Ministry and Services as They Were at the Time of Christ. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans.
Life of Christ Comments Off on Mary’s Magnificat— The Mercy Of God (Luke 1: 46-55)
By Gordon Franz
I would like to tell you a story that the tabloids would love to put in print. If they did, however, they would distort and twist the account. But unlike the tabloids, the story I am going to tell you is true. I am not making it up.
This story is about two Jewish women who are about to become mothers. Their Hebrew names are Elisheva and Miriam and they are cousins. The older one, Elisheva, was six months along in her pregnancy. The younger one, Miriam, had just gotten pregnant. She did not show it, but she knew she was pregnant. She came from her hometown in the north of the country to visit with her much older cousin in the Hill Country of Judah.
What would have interested the tabloids is this: Elisheva was “well advanced in years,” perhaps collecting “social security” and Miriam was a teen-ager. The second pregnancy might not surprise us today with the teen pregnancy rate the way that it is, but this pregnancy was different. The tabloids would have had a field day with both of them.
I would, however, like to look at these two pregnancies from God’s perspective because both were miracle pregnancies. Elisheva had been barren all her adult life. Since this was before the days of fertility drugs, she had all but given up hope of having a child. One day her husband, Zacharias, returned from Jerusalem, where he had been ministering in the Temple and he was mute. He could not talk! He motioned to her that the Lord had said they would have a child. If she was like Sarah, she would have laughed and said, “Yeah right!” (cf. Gen. 18:12-15). If she was a woman of faith, and I believe she was, she would have bowed her head and said, “Thank you, Lord.” However she responded, God was true to His promise and she became pregnant in her old age. This was miracle pregnancy #1. The other woman, Miriam, was an even greater miracle. You see she was a virgin. She had never had sexual relations with any man. This was miracle pregnancy #2.
Miriam knew she was pregnant because the angel Gabriel appeared to her in Nazareth and said, “Do not be afraid, Miriam, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus.” The Holy Spirit conceived the child that Miriam carried. She was to be the most blessed and most privileged mother ever to walk the face of the earth. She was the mother of the Lord Jesus Christ. You do not have to go to the tabloids to read about this. Just turn to the gospel of Luke, chapters 1 and 2.
We should always thank God for our mothers and also thank God for Mary. Without mothers, none of us would be here today. Without Mary, none of us would have a Savior because she gave birth to the Savior of the World, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us look at Mary, not through the eyes of theologians, Church Fathers, or even Church councils, but through her own eyes. She left us a psalm (song) that she composed to express the innermost thoughts and feelings of her heart.
The song (Luke 1:46-55) was originally composed in Hebrew and then later translated by Dr. Luke into Greek (Aytoun 1917: 281-283). As Dr. Randall Buth, a Bible translator for Wycliffe Translators has observed in an article on the verb tenses of this poem, “This phenomenon of poetic tense shifting points specifically to Hebrew – not Greek, not Septuagintal Greek and not Aramaic – as the original language of the poem… It was an originally Hebrew poem that Luke and others have carefully transmitted” (1984: 75, 76).
This psalm can be divided into four stanzas of four lines each (Warfield 1885: 305). The overall psalm has two literary units with two stanzas in each unit. The key word in each literary unit is “mercy” (1:50 and 54). The overriding theme of this psalm is the mercy of God bestowed upon Mary and all those who fear the Lord (1:46-50), as well as God’s covenant people, Israel (1:51-55).
In this psalm, Mary said (1:46-55):
My soul magnifies the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He put down the mighty from their thrones,
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.
Mary must have had a godly upbringing by parents who taught her the Word of God at home as well as took her to the synagogue in Nazareth to hear the Word of God read, or sung, and also proclaimed by the rabbi on Shabbat. She had a keen mind that absorbed the truths of the Scriptures. The song that flowed from her heart is packed with excellent Biblical theology concerning the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Avraham, Yitzaq, va-Ya’akov) and His relationship to His covenant people, including Mary.
God’s Mercy is Bestowed on Mary and Those Who Fear Him. 1:46-50
In the first literary unit, Mary proclaims the mercy of God toward herself and those who fear Him (1:46-50). This unit has two stanzas. In the first, Mary magnifies the Lord because He is her Savior (1:46-48). In the second stanza, Mary magnifies the Lord because He is mighty, holy, and merciful (1:49, 50). This first unit is intensely personal on Mary’s part.
Mary Magnifies the Lord Because He is Her Savior. 1:46-48
Human beings are made in the image of the Triune God. The Triune God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. .. so God created man in His own image” (Gen. 1:26, 27). Just as God is a Triune being, so are human beings. We are made up of a body, soul and spirit (cf. 1 Thess. 5:23). Mary involves her whole being in the composition of this song as she bursts into praise. She says with her mouth (her body): “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.”
Mary began her song with a paradoxical statement. She said she magnifies the Lord. How can one magnify Someone who is already infinite and eternal in His Person? The Lord is omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (everywhere present), omniscient (all knowing), omni-sapient (all wise), eternal, immutable (unchanging), all loving, merciful, gracious, faithful, and infinitely holy. How are you going to magnify that?!
One could conjecture that Mary had seen a glass globe filled with water (the forerunner to the magnifying glass) in the Roman administrative center of Sepphoris, just over the ridge from Nazareth. Being fascinated with this object she noticed that it enlarged an object three times its normal size. The closer glass globe got to an object, the bigger it looked (cf. Seneca, Natural Questions 1: 6: 5; LCL 7:57, 59; Tameanko 1989: 26, 27; Lewis 1997:40, 41). Perhaps Mary saw herself as a magnifying glass. She realized that the closer she got to the Lord, the bigger He became in her life. It is obvious from this psalm that Mary knew large portions of the Hebrew Bible (the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings) as well as Biblical theology (Koontz 1959: 339). Even as a teenager, she had been taught well at home and in the synagogue.
By her praise, she made an infinite and eternal God even bigger! She had learned something one of her ancestors, the sweet psalmist of Israel, King David instructed all of us to do. He sang: “I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make its boast in the LORD; The humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, And let us exalt His name together” (Ps. 34:1-3). He also sang: “But I am poor and sorrowful; Let your salvation, O God, set me up on high. I will praise the name of God with a song, And I will magnify Him with thanksgiving” (Ps. 69:29, 30). In Mary’s composition, she both exalts the name of the Lord and expresses her thanksgiving for what God has done for her.
In her life, that infinite and eternal God became even bigger to her. As she memorized and studied the Scriptures, she understood how vast and infinite her God was, yet He was also a personal God who was interested in everything she said and did.
She goes on to say that her spirit rejoices in God her Savior. In order for a person to have a Savior, they must be a sinner. Mary, like all of us, was a sinner! The Child she carried in her womb was God manifest in human flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ. He was born so that He could die on Calvary’s cross in order to pay for all the sins of all humanity (1 John 2:2). In so doing, He became the Savior of the World (John 4:42). Only a sinner needs a Savior. If a person was sinless, that individual would have no need for a Savior.
The statement that Mary made, that she rejoiced in God her Savior shows Mary knew her spiritual state better than anyone. She understood that she was a sinner and needed a Savior. The closer she got to the Lord, the more she realized her own sinfulness because, as she states in the next stanza, the Lord is holy (Luke 1: 49).
Perhaps Mary recalled the words of the prophet Isaiah when he saw the Lord, high and lifted up, and heard the seraphim say, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Host; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa. 6:1-3), he humbly said, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have see the King, The LORD of Hosts” (6:5). When Mary did, she too realized she was a sinner and needed a Savior.
Mary had not seen the Lord of Hosts, but she had seen the angel Gabriel. She reflected on his visitation in Nazareth and his statement to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” The angel went on to describe the ultimate destiny of the One whom she would give birth to. He said: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS (Yeshua). He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:28, 30-33). The ultimate destiny of the Lord Jesus will be to rule upon the throne of David from Jerusalem forever.
After her conception, I am sure Mary compared notes with her betrothed husband Joseph. An Angel of the Lord had paid him a visit in his dreams. The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:20, 21).
Both heavenly visitors said that this Child would be named JESUS. In Hebrew, His name would be “Yehoshua” which is translated into Greek as “Jesus.” The name means “YHWH is salvation.” However, Joseph was told by an Angel of the Lord what this Child would accomplish during His first coming to the earth: He would save His people from their sins. How this would be accomplished, the angel does not say. I am sure that Joseph would have recalled the passages from the Psalms that described in prophetic terms the crucifixion of the Messiah (Ps. 22) and His subsequent resurrection (Ps. 18). He would also recall the words of the Prophet Isaiah as he looked down the corridors of time to see the Messiah as the Suffering Servant on Calvary’s cross when he wrote: “He [the Messiah] is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (53: 3-6).
The angel Gabriel, on the other hand, told Mary that her Son would rule forever on the throne of David. Mary would recall the Davidic Covenant given by Nathan the prophet (2 Sam. 7:4-17). She would also recall the psalms that extol the Davidic Covenant (Ps. 89 and Ps. 110). Both angelic messengers give us a complete picture of the prophetic program of the Messiah. One tells of the purpose of His first coming: to pay for sins. The other tells of the plan for the second coming: to rule from Jerusalem on the throne of David.
Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum has pointed out that: “The Davidic Covenant promised four eternal things: An eternal throne, an eternal house or dynasty, an eternal kingdom, and an eternal descendant. All four eternal things came out in Gabriel’s message. Concerning the throne he said: the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. Concerning the house or dynasty-he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever. Concerning the kingdom-of his kingdom there shall be no end. Concerning the eternal descendant, Gabriel said: The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God. The four eternal things which were promised in the Davidic Covenant were restated here to be fulfilled through Jesus the Messiah. The eternality of the house, throne, and kingdom is guaranteed because the seed of David culminates in a Person who is Himself eternal” (1992:17).
Mary continues her psalm by telling us why she magnified the Lord and rejoiced in God as her Savior. “For (or because) He has regarded the lowly estate of His maidservant” (1:48a).
God’s ways are not always our ways. If we were going to pick somebody to give birth to the Savior of the World, who would also be the King of Israel, we would probably pick a young lady who was from a rich and powerful, politically connected family. Even though Mary was from the House of David, she said that God regarded her “lowly state.” Mary was not referring to her humility, but rather to the social status and economic condition of her family. She lived in Nazareth: a small, obscure, and unimportant village in the hills of Lower Galilee. We know from the excavations that were conducted in Nazareth, that the village was small. It consisted of about 20 houses, and none of the houses were villas like in Sepphoris, just over the ridge from Nazareth. The villagers in Nazareth were simple farmers and shepherds with a low economic status. The words “lowly state” also implies that Mary was probably the youngest in her family.
Mary identifies herself in this psalm as a “maidservant,” the Greek word doule means female slave. This recalls her statement to the Angel Gabriel after he announced to Mary that the child she would give birth to would be conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35-37). Mary humbly said, “Behold the maidservant (doulas) of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word” (1:38). Here we see Mary’s humble submission, as a slave, to the Lord and His will. She would trust the Lord that He would take care of her reputation as she carried the Son of God to term.
Mary’s trust is expressed in the rest of the verse where she states: “For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (1:48b). Later, during the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus, the religious leaders said to Jesus, “We are not born of fornication; we have one father – God” (John 8:41). The implication of that verse is that some people thought Mary committed fornication. There are some ancient sources, both Rabbinic and pagan, which state Mary had sexual relations with a Roman soldier named Pantera / Pandira and that he was the father of Jesus (Tabor 2006: 59-72; For a refutation, see Fisher 2006:4-12)! This blasphemous statement aside, Mary knew she was a virgin when the Holy Spirit conceived the Lord Jesus in her and she had done nothing wrong. She firmly believed that God would uphold her reputation.
As history has shown, her statement has proved correct. All generations have called her blessed. This began with the Angel Gabriel when he said, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!” (Luke 1:28). Then her cousin Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (1:47).
Please notice that both the angel and her cousin said she was to be blessed among women, not above women. Mary is not to be worshipped. She should be thanked for giving birth to the Lord Jesus, but not worshipped. Only God is to be worshipped. As Solomon so eloquently sang, “His name [the LORD] shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun, and men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him blessed. Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, Who only does wondrous things! And blessed by His glorious name forever! And let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and amen” (Ps. 72:17-19).
The Lord Jesus spoke to large crowds during His earthly ministry. On one occasion a women cried out, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” (Luke 11:27). The Lord Jesus responded, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it!” (11:28). Jesus acknowledged the blessedness of His mother, just as she predicted in her “magnificat,” but Jesus drew people’s attention to something far more important – obedience to the Word of God.
Mary Magnifies the Lord because He is Mighty, Holy and Merciful. 1:49, 50
After her conception, Mary went to visit her older cousin Elizabeth in a city in the Hill Country of Judah, most likely a place called Ein Karim, situated in western Jerusalem today. When Mary arrived at her house, Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit said: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe [John] leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of these things, which were told her from the Lord” (Luke 1:41-45). Elizabeth asked a very profound question. Why should the mother of her Lord come to visit her? Elizabeth, who was filled with the Spirit, understood that the baby in Mary’s womb would be her Lord! Here we have an early hint at the deity of the Lord Jesus.
In the second stanza of Mary’s psalm, she says, “For He [the Lord and God who is her Savior] who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation” (Luke 1: 49, 50).
Mary extols three attributes of God. He is mighty, He is holy, and He is merciful. The first attribute she extols is the omnipotence of God. He is all mighty. She says of the One who is mighty that He has done great things for her. At the announcement of her conception by the Holy Spirit, the Angel Gabriel states, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). It was the “power of the Highest” that brought about the conception of the Son of God.
Isaiah, in one of his great Messianic prophecies predicted the dual nature of the Lord Jesus and His names when he said: “For unto us a Child is born [His humanity], Unto us a Son is given [His deity]; And the government shall be upon His shoulders. And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God [El Gebor], Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (9:6, 7). Isaiah predicted that Mary’s Son would be called the “Mighty God.”
The second attribute was the holiness of God. One can imagine the tongues wagging at the well of Nazareth when the women went to get water. “Did you hear? Mary is pregnant! She claims she was a virgin when the Holy Spirit conceived the child in her! We don’t believe that. She ought to be stoned.” Mary’s reputation, and Joseph’s honor, was at stake. Yet Mary could say in her innocence, “Holy is His Name.” One of the names given to the Lord Jesus was Holy (Rev. 3:7).
The final attribute that Mary extols is the mercy of God. Some believe that the mercy of God is the key to understanding this psalm. The word appears twice in this psalm at the end of each literary unit (Luke 1:50 and 54). J. H. Bernard states: “In the first stanza [literary unit] the singer praises God for His overwhelming Mercy which rests upon her, as it will upon all who fear Him, for ever. She sings of personal mercies, and that with no loud protestations, but with a humble thanksgiving which is sacred indeed. And then, in the second stanza [literary unit], the hymn bursts out uncontrollably – as it seems – into a paean of national hope” (1907: 204).
In the last line of this stanza (1:50), we observe three things associated with the mercy of God. First, God’s mercy is unmerited. Second, God’s mercy is selective, and finally, God’s mercy is unending.
Mercy, by its very nature, is unmerited. Grace and mercy is the flip side of the same coin. Grace is getting what we do not deserve because Someone has already paid for it. Mercy, on the other hand, is not getting what we do deserve. Mary knew she was a sinner and deserved to be separated from God for all eternity in Hell. She also knew that if she put her trust in God that He would provide a Savior to pay for her sins. The One she carried in her womb was born to die! Her Son, the Son of God, would die to pay for all her sins as well as the sins of the whole world. God’s mercy is unmerited.
The mercy of God is also selective. God’s mercy is on all those who fear the Lord. The word “fear” has the idea of reverential awe and trust. If a person receives the grace of God, and trusts the Lord to provide a Savior, as Mary had done, they would receive the free gift of eternal life, a home in heaven, the forgiveness of sins, and the righteousness of God. God’s mercy is selective for those who fear (trust) Him.
The mercy is God is unending; as Mary put it, “from generation to generation.” After the death of the Lord Jesus on Calvary’s cross, myriad of men, women and children, from every kindred, tongue, and nation, would put their trust in the Lord Jesus as the One who died and paid for all their sins and rose from the dead three days later to prove that sin had been paid for, death has been conquered and Satan defeated. Truly God’s mercy is unending.
God’s Mercy is Bestowed on His Covenant People, Israel. 1:51-55
In the second literary unit, Mary proclaims God’s mercy toward His covenant people, Israel (1:51-55). As in the first literary unit, this unit is divided into two stanzas. In the first stanza (1:51-54a) we see God demonstrating His mercy by His action. In the second stanza (1:54b-55), God remembers His mercy because of His covenant with Abraham and his Seed, the One whom Mary is carrying in her womb.
The first stanza has a beautiful literary structure. The first line (1:51a) says, “He has shown strength with His arms.” The verb “He has” goes back to verse 49 where Mary uses the same verb when she states that “He (the Mighty One) has done great things for me.” She will continue the thought of what great things God has done for her and expand that to include what He has done for Israel. She will also use the same verb again in verses 51b, 53a, 53b, and 54a. In verses 51b to 54a Mary contrasts two groups of people. The first group is the “proud” (1:51b) which He (the Mighty One) scatters (a negative statement), and the second group is “His servant Israel” (1:54a) which He helps (a positive statement). Between these two verses, Mary will describe the “proud” as mighty (1:52a) and rich (1:53b). In contrast to “His servant Israel” which is lowly (1:52b) and hungry (1:53a). Basically she says there will be a reversal of fortune between these two groups.
The Mighty One demonstrates His mercy by His actions. 1:51-54a
Mary begins this second literary unit by saying, “He (the Mighty One) has shown strength with His arms” (1:51a). God is invisible and no one has seen Him at any time. But sometimes, in order to have a clearer pictures or better understanding of who God is, anthropomorphic language is used that attribute body parts to God. In this case, Mary says God has shown His strength with His arms.
The arms of God (or hands) are mentioned a number of times in the Hebrew Scriptures, usually in connection with the Exodus from Egypt. In Exodus 6:6, God said: “Therefore say to the children of Israel: I am the LORD; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptian, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgment.” [For context, read Exodus 6:2-9]. After the Israelites passed through the Red Sea, Moses composed a song of deliverance (Ex. 15: 1-18). In the song, he says that “Fear and dread will fall on them (the Philistines, the Edomites, the Moabites and the inhabitants of the Land of Canaan); by the greatness of Your arm” (15:16). See also Deut. 3:24; 4:34; 7:19; 2 Kings 17:36; Ps. 44:3; 89:13; 118:15; Isa. 30:30; Jer. 32:24. God redeemed Israel out of the Egyptian bondage because of His mercy. At the time this happened, the Israelites were worshipping the gods of the Egyptians (Ezek. 20:7-10). They did not deserve redemption, but God in love and mercy redeemed them and brought them out of Egypt.
As the Children of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses wrote the words of the Lord: “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor chose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Therefore know that the LORD you God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deut. 7:6-9). Notice in these verses, “covenant” and “mercy” are tied together. The Israelites were worshiping the gods of the Egyptians and did not deserve to be redeemed, but God in mercy brought them out because of a covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The outstretched arm is also used of the “Second Exodus” when the Lord returns His people from the four corners of all the earth to the Land of Israel after the seven year period of Tribulation (Ezek. 20:23, 33, 34; Isa. 11:11; Matt. 24:29-31).
Perhaps Mary also remembered the words of the prophet Isaiah when he stated: “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” Isaiah continued to describe the LORD as the “Man of sorrows” who would take all our iniquities upon Himself (53:3, 6). That “Man of Sorrows” was being nurtured in the womb of Mary as she sang this song.
At this point in her thinking, Mary might be confused because the arm of the Lord would lead to a return to the Land as well as suffering. The Apostle Peter will clarify this confusion. He wrote in his first epistle (AD 43): “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1:10, 11). There would be two advents of the Messiah. The first time He would come to suffer and die for sin, but would subsequently be raised from the dead three days later. The second time He would come would be with His saints to the Mount of Olives and then re-gather the remnant of His People Israel and then establish His Millennial Kingdom (Zech. 14:4-9; Matt. 24: 29-31).
In the next six lines (1:51b-54a), Mary will contrast what God will do with two different groups of people. The first group is the “proud,” and the second, “His servant Israel.”
She says of the proud that God will scatter them in the imagination of their hearts (1:51a). The imagination of the heart shows the deep-rootedness of their problem. The proud are self-sufficient and have no need for God. In some cases, the individuals think they are gods.
How much Mary knew about Caesar Augustus, the ruler of the Roman world, I do not know. The Jewish world was probably better informed than most in the Roman world. There were Jewish people living in the Diaspora (the area outside the Land of Israel) who would return to Jerusalem for the three pilgrim feasts: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost) and Succoth (Tabernacles). As they mixed with their fellow Jews living in the Land of Israel, they shared the news of what was going on in the Roman world. Jewish pilgrims from Asia Minor would have told of an inscription that was executed by the proconsul Paullus Fabius Maximus in 9 BC. The people of Asia Minor acknowledged that “Providence … [gave] us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue [divine power] that he might benefit mankind, sending him as a savior, both for us and for our descendents, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance [“epiphany,” often used of Hellenistic rulers] (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning for the world of the good tidings [gospel] that came by reason of him” (Boring, Berger, and Colpe 1995: para. 225). Was he proud? You better believe it. He thought he was a god!
When Paul penned his first epistle to Timothy, he concluded with the thought that Jesus is the “blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (6:15). The word Potentate is the same word as mighty in Mary’s song. Timothy was ministering in Asia minor when he received the letter during the reign of Emperor Nero. While Nero never claimed to be a god, at least in Rome, the Greek world, of which Asia Minor is a part, considered the emperor a god. There was a coin minted in Laodicea that had a portrait of Nero and the word “theos” (god) by his name!
There is a day coming, in the middle of the seven year Tribulation, when the Man of Sin will be revealed. He will be the Son of Perdition who will oppose and exalt himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the Temple of God, showing himself that he is God! (2 Thess. 2:3, 4). Jesus refers to this event as the “Abomination of Desolation” predicted by Daniel the prophet (Matt. 24:15; cf. Dan. 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). Paul goes on to describe the end of this Lawless One when he says that the “Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thess. 2:8). That is the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus to earth.
Mary goes on to say that the Mighty One has “put down the mighty from their thrones” (1:52a). The word “mighty” in this verse is the same as the word “mighty” used for God in verse 49. Perhaps Mary had in mind those rulers who thought they were a god. There is a proverb that every ruler, be it a king, president, prime minister, or whatever, should memorize. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Prov. 21:1). Every ruler should realize that they rule only as long as God allows. When He has used them to fulfill His purposes, whatever they may be, then they are removed from the scene.
The list of rulers who have had a god-complex in history would include the pharaohs, Phillip II, Alexander the Great, Antiochus IV, Caesar Augustus, Caligula, and Domitian. Each and every one of them had their hearts in the hands of the Living God. When He was done with them, their hearts stopped beating.
On the other hand, Mary goes on to say that God exalts the lowly. Her mind probably went back to her ancestor, King David. The LORD instructed Samuel the prophet to take a sacrifice to Bethlehem and anoint a king for Israel from the tribe of Judah and the house of Jesse (1 Sam. 16:1-13). Jesse brought his seven sons before Samuel, but each were rejected by the Lord because “man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart” (6:7). Finally, the eighth and youngest of Jesse’s sons is called while he was out in the Judean Desert tending the family flock of sheep. The Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one” (16:12). God exalts the lowly (cf. 1 Cor. 1:26-31).
In the next verse, Mary contrasts the rich and the hungry. “The ‘hungry’ are those conscious of a need, particularly the need of righteousness (Matt. 5:6) and a life acceptable with God. Their soul shall be satisfied (Ps. 107:9), but the self-satisfied, represented by the ‘rich’ shall be sent away devoid of the truth and destitute of spiritual wealth” (Koontz 1959: 347).
Mary then concludes this section by saying: “He has helped His servant Israel” (1:54a).
My sanctified imagination would like to think that Mary used this song as a lullaby for the Baby Jesus. I’m sure most of us can remember some of the songs that were sung to us as a little child. I’m sure Jesus would have remembered this one because when He began to teach His disciples He recalled the words from the song His mother sang, “He has scattered the proud,” so He instructed His disciples, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” His mother sang, “He has exalted the humble and meek.” He instructed His disciples, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” His mother sang, “He has filled the hungry.” He continued to instruct His disciples, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matt. 5:3, 5, 6). “The Beatitudes re-echo the phrases of [the] Magnificat, and fill them with a more spiritual meaning” (Bernard 1907: 205, 206).
The Mighty One demonstrates His mercy because He remembered His covenant. 1:54b, 55
The concluding stanza comes back to the remembrance of God’s mercy. It is not that God has forgotten, nor does He have short term memory loss or Alzheimer’s disease, but God remembers because He is celebrating His mercy towards Abraham and his Seed.
Mary probably has in mind the last verse of the book of Micah: “You will give truth to Jacob and mercy to Abraham, which you have sworn to our fathers from days of old” (7:20), when she says “In remembrance of His mercy to Abraham and to his Seed forever.” The phrase, “As He spoke to our Fathers” seems to be a parenthetical statement.
God made an unconditional covenant with Abraham where He promised He would make of Abraham a great nation and make his name great. God would bless him and make him a blessing to others. God also promised a specific land to Abraham and his descendents (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:14-18; 15:1-21; 17:4-8).
After, the LORD put Abraham through ten tests in order to see if he would be faithful to the Lord in all situations (Cassuto 1964: 294-296). Abraham failed some of the tests, yet God was merciful to him and still used him to fulfill His promises. The last test that God gave to Abraham was to see if he would offer his “son, [his] only son Isaac,” Abraham passed this test and God reconfirmed the covenant with Abraham by saying: “By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son – blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendents as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashores; and your descendents shall possess the gates of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:16-18).
The Apostle Paul gave a divine commentary on this verse when he wrote to the church in Galatia: “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ” (Gal. 3:16).
The promised Seed would come through Abraham, Isaac (Gen. 17:19; 26:1-5), Jacob (Gen. 28:10-15), Judah (Gen. 49:10), and David (Ruth 4:17-22). Nathan the prophet set forth the unconditional Davidic covenant in 2 Sam. 7, which promised that a descendent of David would sit upon the throne of David forever (7:4-17). The Seed whom Mary carried in her womb, the Lord Jesus Christ, would be the ultimate blessing to all the people of the earth (Luke 1:42).
What can we learn from Mary? First and foremost, we, like Mary, are all sinners. Because we are sinners, we need a Savior. That is the reason the Lord Jesus came to earth. He was born, the sinless Son of God, lived a perfect life, never sinning once, and then died on the Cross of Calvary as our Sin Bearer. He rose from the dead three days later to demonstrate that sin had been paid for, death had been conquered and Satan defeated. In grace, He can freely offer any sinner who puts their trust in Him, the forgiveness of sins, a home in heaven, and the free gift of eternal life (John 3:16; Rom. 4:5; Eph. 2:8, 9; I John 5:13). Mary trusted the Lord to be her Savior.
Second, when we realize what God has done for us, we magnify Him by our lives and by our lips. This is called worship. At the Passover meal, right before Jesus was crucified; He took bread and wine and instituted the Lord’s Supper. He instructed His disciples to remember Him in this simple way often (Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; John 13:12-30). He apparently thought it important enough to also reiterate order and meaning of the Lord’s Table to the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 11:23-34). Our worship should lead us to witness to a lost and dying world around us. In essence, this song that Mary composed is her verbal testimony to her family and friends as to what God has done for her in her life.
Third, like Mary, we need to know the attributes of God. The only way we can know the attributes of an eternal, holy God is to read about them in His Word. The challenge to believers in the Lord Jesus Christ is to know the Word of God. Mary, I am sure, had godly parents who helped her memorize the Scriptures, took her to the synagogue where she absorbed what was said by the rabbis and from the reading of the Torah scrolls.
Fourth, in the second literary unit, Mary demonstrated her knowledge of the ways of God. She understood that God would ultimately set things in order and bring about the reversal of fortune of the proud and the people of God, if not in this life, then in the ages to come. Mary was also keenly aware of the Abrahamic Covenant and knew God would be faithful to His promises. Believers in the Lord Jesus should be diligent students of the Word of God in order to properly discern the ways of God as revealed in His Word (2 Tim. 2:15).
Aytoun, R. A.
1917 The Ten Hymns of the Nativity in Their Original Language. Journal of Theological Studies 18: 274-288.
1906 The Magnificat in Niceta of Remesiana and Cyril of Jerusalem. Journal of Theological Studies 7: 449-453.
1967 The Magnificat. A History of the Controversy. Journal of Biblical Literature 86: 263-275.
1902 Tas Doulas in the Magnificat, Luke 1: 48. Journal of Biblical Literature 21: 48-50.
Bernard, J. H.
1906 The Magnificat. Expositor 7th series. 3: 193-206.
Burkitt, F. C.
1906 Who Spoke the Magnificat? Journal of Theological Studies 7: 220-227.
1984 Hebrew Poetic Tenses and the Magnificat. Journal for the Study of the New Testament 21: 67-83.
1964 A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Part 2. From Noah to Abraham. Jerusalem: Magnes. Reprinted 1974.
Davies, J. G.
1964 The Ascription of the Magnificat to Mary. Journal of Theological Studies 15: 307-308.
Fisher, G. Richard
2006 The Jesus Dynasty. The Imaginary and Irrational Interpretations of James Tabor. The Quarterly Journal (Personal Freedom Outreach). 26/3: 4-12.
1992 The Birth and Early Life of the Messiah. Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries. Manuscript number 127.
Harris, J. Rendel
1929-1930 Mary of Elizabeth? Expository Times 41: 266-267.
1930-1931 Again the Magnificat. Expository Times 42: 188-190.
1919 Magnificat and Benedictus. American Journal of Philology 40/1: 64-75.
1967 The Background and Character of the Lukan Psalms. Journal of Theological Studies 19: 19-50.
Koontz, John V.
1959 Mary’s Magnificat. Bibliotheca Sacra 116: 336-349.
1997 Did Ancient Celators Use Magnifying Lenses? The Celator 11/11: 40, 41.
Machen, J. Gresham
1912 The Hymns of the First Chapter of Luke. Princeton Theological Review 10: 1-38.
1932 The Virgin Birth of Christ. New York and London: Harper and Brothers.
1989 Word Biblical Commentary. Luke 1-9:20. Vol. 35a. Dallas, TX: Word Books.
1971 Natural Questions. Books 1-3. Vol. 7. Trans. T. H. Corcoran. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University. Loeb Classical Library 450. Reprinted 1999.
2006 The Jesus Dynasty. New York: Simon and Schuster.
1989 Literature Points Out Knowledge of Magnifiers. The Best of the Celator
1989. Lodi, WI: The Celator.
Tannehill, Robert C.
1974 The Magnificat as Poem. Journal of Biblical Literature 93: 263-275.
Warfield, B. B.
1885 Messianic Psalms of the New Testament. Expositor 3rd series. 2: 301-309.
1954-1955 Magnificat and Benedictus-Maccabean Psalms? Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 37: 328-347.
Life of Christ Comments Off on The Tyrian Shekel and the Temple of Jerusalem
By Gordon Franz
Students of the Bible are aware of the connection between the Jerusalem Temple and the city of Tyre. Hiram, king of Tyre, sent cedars of Lebanon, cypress logs and artisans to Jerusalem to help King Solomon build the First Temple (I Kings 5; II Chron. 2).
Most people may not be aware that there is a connection between the city of Tyre and the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the Tyrian shekel.
Every year, a Jewish man, 20-years old and older, paid a voluntary half shekel Temple tax to the Jerusalem Temple. This tax, instituted by Moses (Ex. 30:11-16), was paid in either the Tyrian shekel (for himself and another person) or half-shekel (for only himself) during the Second Temple period ( Mishnah Bekhoroth 8:7; Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 11a).
The shekel, with the laureate head of Melqarth-Herakles (a pagan deity) on the obverse and an eagle (a graven image) on the reverse, averaged 14.2 grams in weight and contained at least 94% silver. These coins were minted in Tyre between 126/125 BC and 19/18 BC. After the Roman government closed the Tyre mint, these coins continued to be minted at an unknown mint, probably in or near Jerusalem, from 18/17 BC until AD 69/70. The Jewish celators continued to strike coins with the image of Melqarth-Herakles and the eagle. This was contrary to the clear teachings of the Word of God (Ex. 20:3,4: Deut. 4:16-18; 5:8). Yet the rabbis declared that the Tyrian shekels were the only legal currency that was acceptable in the Temple (Hendin 2001: 420-429; 2002: 46,47). The rabbis decided that the commandment to give the half-shekel Temple tax, with its proper weight and purity, was more important than the prohibition of who or what image was on the coin.
The Tyrian shekel is mentioned at least twice in the New Testament. The first time it is mentioned is in Matt. 17:24-27 when the Temple Tax collectors asked Peter if he and his Master paid the Temple tax. Peter replied in the affirmative. The Lord Jesus, seeing a teaching opportunity on Biblical greatness, demonstrated humility by paying the Temple tax for Himself and Peter with a shekel coin from a fish’s mouth (Franz 1997:81-87). The second mention is in Matt. 26:14, 15 when Judas betrayed the Lord Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, most likely Tyrian shekels from the Temple Treasury.
“Does Your Teacher Not Pay the [Temple] Tax? (Matt. 17:24-27). Bible and Spade 10/4: 81-87.
Guide to Biblical Coins. Fourth Edition. New York: Amphora.
Tyre Coins and Graven Images. The Celator 16/2: 46, 47.
Life of Christ Comments Off on The Angelic Proclamation To The Shepherds Luke 2:8-15
By Gordon Franz
I would like to draw back the curtains on the Drama of World Redemption and take a peek at what was going on behind the scenes during the second half of the First Century BC. I will also consider the events leading up to the birth of the Lord Jesus and the announcement of that birth by the angels to the shepherds in the fields surrounding Bethlehem.
This may seem like a daunting task; and I am not presuming that I have all the answers. I am like the Monday morning quarterback that analyzes the Sunday afternoon football game with 20-20 hindsight pointing out the team’s mistakes, analyzing why they lost the game, and showing how they could have won.
As an archaeologist, historian and a student of the Scriptures, I will bring some of the “secular” and “sacred” sources together to see the announcement of the birth of the Lord Jesus by the angels in the greater context of world redemption and the “conflict of the ages,” the war between God and Satan. For a good Biblical overview of the conflict between God and Satan, see Renald E. Showers’s, What on Earth is God Doing? Satan’s Conflict with God (1973).
An Overview of the Conflict of the Ages
This drama, or conflict, actually began in the Garden of Eden. Eve, our first mother, was deceived by Satan who was disguised as a serpent. She fell into transgression and disobeyed the Word of God (I Tim. 2:13, 14). God cursed the serpent and said to him: ” And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:13). This was the first prophecy at the beginning of the long war between God and Satan.
Years later, God made an unconditional covenant with Abraham where He promised a land to Abraham and his descendents (Gen. 12:1-3; 13:14-18; 15:1-21; 17:4-8). After God tested Abraham to see if he would offer his “son, [his] only son Isaac,” Abraham passed this test and God reconfirmed the covenant with Abraham by saying: ” By Myself I have sworn, says the LORD, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son – blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendents as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashores; and your descendents shall possess the gates of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Gen. 22:16-18).
The Apostle Paul provided an inspired commentary on this verse when he wrote to the church in Galatia: “Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ” (Gal. 3:16).
The promised Seed would come through Abraham, Isaac (Gen. 17:19; 26:1-5), Jacob (Gen. 28:10-15), Judah (Gen. 49:10), and David (Ruth 4:17-22). Nathan the prophet set forth the unconditional Davidic covenant in II Sam. 7, which promised that a descendent of David would sit upon the throne of David forever (7:4-17).
The kings of Judah were sometimes not on their best behavior. At one point, Satan thought he won a victory when he saw Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah or Coniah) sinning grossly. God was so displeased with Jehoiachin that Jeremiah records this prophecy: ” Is this man Coniah a despised, broken idol – a vessel in which is no pleasure? Why are they cast out, he and his descendents, and cast into a land which they do not know? O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD! Thus says the LORD: ‘Write this man down as childless, a man who shall not prosper in his days; for none of his descendents will prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah'” (Jer. 22:28-30). Satan thought he had won a victory in the war with God, now there could be no Messiah to fulfill the Davidic covenant!
Satan, however, was in for a big surprise. When the Lord Jesus was born, He could claim a legal right to the throne of David through His adoptive father Joseph. Joseph was related to David through David’s son Solomon, but there was still the problem of the curse against Jehoiachin (Matt. 1:1-17). The seeming victory of Satan was turned to defeat when he found out that the blood line of the Messiah came through his mother Mary, who was also related to David by another one of David’s son, Nathan (Luke 3:23-38). The Lord Jesus had a legal, as well as a blood claim, to the throne of David. Thus, He will be able to fulfill the Davidic covenant. One day in the future, He shall rule upon the throne of David from Jerusalem (Luke 1:30-33).
Satan also knew the prophecies of Daniel chapter 9, verses 24-27, and knew it was about time for the Messiah to come to earth. His thinking was: “I will put one of my puppets on the throne of an empire that will rule the world and bring peace and prosperity. And I will have some of my messengers herald him as a savior. Perhaps the people of the world will fall for my messiah and his “heaven on earth” and forget about God’s Savior who will rule in Jerusalem.” Satan began to put him plan into motion.
Octavian / Caesar Augustus
On September 23, 63 BC (on the Julian calendar), Gaius Octavian was born in Rome just before sunrise. Apparently his father, Senator Octavius, was present at the birth of Octavian because he was late for work in the Roman Senate. When he arrived at the Senate building, he announced the birth of his son. A senator who heard the announcement, Nigidius Figulus, was also an astrologer, so he inquired as to the time of the birth. According to the Roman historian Suetonius, when he found out, he “declared that the ruler of the world had been born” ( Deified Augustus I: 94: 5; LCL 1: 267). Another Roman historian named Dio Cassius, records that Nigidius cried out, “You have begotten a master over us!” ( Roman History 45: 1: 3-5; LCL 4: 409).
A numismatic scholar was able to cast Augustus’ horoscope and demonstrate from the ancient sources that the astrological charts “predicted” Augustus rule (Molnar 1994a: 6-15). He comments: “I believe that Augustus was certain that he had an ironclad astral license for imperial rule. I also suspect that he probably took advantage of this starry legacy by exploiting the superstition of his friends and foes. Friendly believers of astral fatalism would have been inclined to support him in achieving his ‘inevitable’ destiny, whereas his adversaries may have been reluctant to fight fate: a powerful formula for a self-fulfilling prophecy. Although it is pure conjecture, I cannot help but wonder how even Julius Caesar may have been influenced to adopt this distant nephew who had a wondrous horoscope claiming omnipotence and world rule” (1994a: 6, 7).
Firmicus Maternus, an astrological writer in the 4th century AD, wrote concerning Augustus’ horoscope, “[It] will make emperors whose rule extends throughout the whole world and whose power is so great that it approaches that of the gods” (Molnar 1994a: 12).
Divination and astrology were widespread in the Roman world at this time. Satan used astrology, something that the Word of God condemns and forbids (Lev. 19:26; Deut. 18:9-24; Isa. 47:13-14), to set up his puppet to be the ruler of the world.
Suetonius mentioned that he read an account of the conception of Octavian in a book called Theologumena (“Discourse about the gods”) by Asclepias of Mendes. According to the story, Attia was impregnated by a serpent in the temple of Apollo. After this happened, a discoloration on her body was seen in the form of a serpent. Ten months later, Octavian was born and he was regarded as the son of the god Apollo ( Deified Augustus 94:4; LCL 1: 265, 267). Dio Cassius also relates the same story ( Roman History 45: 2, 3; LCL 4:407-409). There were coins minted by Augustus with the inscription on it, “son of god.” While he was the adopted son of the deified Julius Caesar, he was also the son of the god Apollo.
When Octavian was 19 years old, his uncle, Julius Caesar was assassinated in the Senate building on the Ides of March, 44 BC (something else the astrological charts predicted. See Molnar 1994b: 6-10). The two leading conspirators, Brutus and Cassius, fled to the east and raised an army to retake Rome and return it to a Republic and not the dictatorship that Julius Caesar had established. Two and a half years later (October 42 BC), an exhausted and undermanned army led by Octavian and Mark Antony met the armies of Brutus and Cassius at Philippi. As fate would have it, the armies of Brutus and Cassius were defeated and the two men committed suicide.
In 40 BC Virgil (70-19 BC), a prophet of Satan, masquerading as a world renowned poet, wrote a poem called the “Fourth Eclogue” about a virgin and a divine child who will end the civil wars in the Roman world and bring peace and prosperity to the world. It would be a paradise on earth. Thus began the “golden age” of Rome. Peace seemed to prevail after the death of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII in Egypt in 30 BC when Octavian became the sole ruler of the Roman world.
In January 27 BC, Octavian was given the title Augustus which means one who is worthy of honor and worship, like a god. The “secular Games” were celebrated in 17 BC in honor of Augustus’ rule of peace and prosperity. Coins were minted commemorating his rule. Some even had inscriptions on them that called Augustus the “son of god.” In 13 BC an altar of peace was dedicated in Rome. Also, the doors of the Temple of Janus, the god of war, were closed because Rome was not a war with anybody because Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, had prevailed.
It was in this context, on May 14, 6 BC, the real Prince of Peace, the Lord Jesus was born. According to one of the early Church Fathers, Clement of Alexandria (ca. 160-215 AD), the date given on the Egyptian calendar for the birth of Jesus was Pachom 25 ( Stromata 1:21; 1994:333b). On the Gregorian calendar, this date is May 14th, 6 BC (Faulstich 1989: 3-14). Apparently Clement had access to records that we do not have today and I have no reason to doubt this date.
The Angelic Announcement – 2:8-15
Dr. Luke links the birth of the Lord Jesus with the reign of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1). Unbeknownst to Caesar Augustus, the decree that he made for the world to be registered, was used by God to fulfill the prophecy of Micah 5:2, ” But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.”
Mary, pregnant with Jesus, had returned to Nazareth. This decree brought her and Joseph from the village of Nazareth in Lower Galilee to Bethlehem in the Hill Country of Judah. God has a sense of humor as He used Satan’s puppet, Caesar Augustus, to bring about the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy. Augustus was clueless as to what was going on behind the scenes in the “conflict of the ages.”
At the birth of Octavian there were some impressive natal signs in the stars as far as the astrologers were concerned. But at the birth of the Lord Jesus, God does a “one-upman” on Satan and his prognosticators. The “glory of the Lord” shone around the shepherds. This glory of the Lord is known in the Hebrew Scriptures as the Shechinah Glory. This bright manifestation of God had resided in the Tabernacle in the Wilderness, and also in Solomon’s Temple. But the Glory of the LORD departed from that temple right before the Babylonian’s destroyed Jerusalem in 587/6 BC (Ezek. 8-11).
When a remnant of Judeans returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel after the Babylonian captivity the Temple was rebuilt. We know there were five things that were in Solomon’s Temple that were not in the Second Temple. They were: (1) The Ark of the Covenant which included the cover and the Cherubim, (2) the fire on the altar (cf. Lev. 1:7), (3) the Shechinah Glory (4) the Holy Spirit [of Prophecy], and (5) the Urim-we-Thummim (BT Yoma 21b; Moed 3: 94). The Glory of the Lord was missing from the Second Temple.
The Shechinah Glory had not been seen for over 580 years. It showed up on the night of the birth of the Lord Jesus and then disappeared again. It will not be seen on earth again until after the seven year period of Tribulation and Jesus’ establishment of His Kingdom in Jerusalem and the building of the Millennial Temple (Ezek. 43:1-5). Ezekiel ends his book with the phrase, “The LORD is There.” He says that because the Shechinah Glory has returned to the Holy of Holies in the Temple.
An Angel of the LORD also appeared when Jesus was born and said to the shepherds near Bethlehem: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).
Caesar Augustus had a natal sign in the stars at his birth, but the sign the angel gave to the shepherds for the location of the Messiah was that they would find him wrapped in swaddling cloth, lying in a manger! Hardly the sign one would expect for the birth of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords who would one day rule the world.
There was an interesting Greek inscription found in Priene in western Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). Part of this lengthy 84 line inscription said: “Since the Providence which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue [divine power] that he might benefit mankind, sending him as a savior, both for us and for our descendents, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance [“epiphany,” often used of Hellenistic rulers] (excelled even our anticipations), surpassing all previous benefactors, and not even leaving to posterity any hope of surpassing what he has done, and since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning for the world of the good tidings [gospel] that came by reason of him” (Boring, Berger, and Colpe 1995: para. 225). The Greek transcript of the whole inscription can be found in Dittenberger 1905:48-60; Inscription 458. The original is on display in the Berlin Museum and consists of two blocks of different types of stone. The upper block is blue limestone, while the lower one is white marble (Sherk 1969:329; For photographs, see Deissmann 1995; Figs. 70 and 71, between pages 366 and 367).
This inscription was executed in 9 BC after “Paullus Fabius Maximus, proconsul of Asia, wrote to the provincial assembly urging the council to adopt the natal day of Augustus as the beginning of the official year in the province, and to change from the lunar to the solar reckoning of the Julian calendar. The assembly adopted the recommendation enthusiastically as a means of conferring honor upon the deified emperor. Copies of the decree were ordered to be engraved and set up in different cities” (Abbott and Johnson 1968: 331). Fragments of this inscription have also been found in Apamea (Latin fragments), Dorylaeum, Eumenia and Maeonia.
My sanctified imagination chuckles at the thought of this Angel of the Lord watching the workmen at Priene chisel this inscription in the white marble and saying to himself: “You just wait! Three more years and the real epiphany will take place and good tidings will be given because Jesus will be born. He will be the true Savior of the World and also the Messiah and Lord, not Caesar Augustus!”
After the shepherds were instructed as to where to find the Messiah, a multitude of the heavenly host appeared praising God and saying, ” Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14). The peace that the angels spoke about was not the Pax Romana, but a peace that only God could give.
Today we hear much about the “separation of church and state” in the news, but believe it or not, this so-called separation is not found in the Constitution! The angelic announcement demonstrates that God is blatantly involved in the political affairs of the Roman Empire. These statements by the angels are a polemic against Caesar Augustus, and his foreign policies. Jesus is LORD and one day He will rule the world with justice and righteousness and only then will true peace prevail.
Almost 12 years after the death of Caesar Augustus in AD 14, the Lord Jesus identified with His Covenant People, Israel, when He went to the Jordan River and was immersed into the water by John the Baptizer (Luke 3:21, 22). [Remember this: John was not a Baptist, he was a Jew!]
The Spirit of God led the Lord Jesus into the Wilderness in order for Him to be tested (Luke 4:1). Satan picked up a rock and said: ” If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread” (Luke 3:3). Here is a hint at what Caesar Augustus did for the people of Rome. He gave them bread and games. His policy was to feed and entertain the people so that they would like him. Jesus rebuked Satan by saying: ” It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 3:4). Jesus points out to Satan that there is more to life than just food and entertainment. One must be obedient to the Word of God.
When Jesus delivered His “Sermon on the Mount” He taught His disciples to pray, “Give us this day, our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). He then goes on to give a commentary on what we commonly call the “Lord’s prayer” (Matt. 6:14-7:6). His commentary on the daily bread concept is found in Matt. 6:25-34. Jesus said not to be anxious, like the Gentiles, about what they are going to eat, drink or wear, but if they would seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all these things (food, clothing and drink) will be added to them (Matt. 6:31-33). For the believer in the Lord Jesus, we should be seeking God in our daily life and living for Him.
Jesus is again tested by Satan when He is taken to a high mountain and shown all the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5). Satan again tempts Jesus by saying, ” All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore, if you will worship before me, all will be Yours” (Luke 4:6, 7). Was Satan discarding one puppet and trying to enlist another? Satan had given Caesar Augustus an empire that stretched from Britain, all around the Mediterranean Sea, and he even received tribute as far away as India. Jesus refused to play Satan’s game and made the statement: ” Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve'” (Luke 4:8). Satan was offering Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in order to get Him to avoid the Cross. Jesus was steadfast. He knew He had to go to the Cross and die and pay for all the sins of all the world. He had to defeat Satan and conquer death before He could claim the throne of David and rule triumphantly from Jerusalem.
Later in Jesus’ ministry He was in the region of Caesarea Philippi at the base of Mount Hermon in the northern part of Israel. It was in this region that Herod the Great built a temple dedicated to the worship of Caesar Augustus after Caesar had visit the area in 20 BC ( Antiquities 15: 354, 363, 364; LCL 8: 171, 175, 177). Jesus asked His disciples: “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt. 16:16).
The Lord Jesus acknowledged that Peter got the answer correct when He said, “Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:17, 18). At this point, Jesus begins to plainly tell His disciples that He would be going to Jerusalem to suffer and die, but He would be raised from the dead three days later (Matt. 16:21). Peter rebuked the Lord Jesus because he wanted to rule and reign with Christ. Jesus turned the tables on Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (Matt. 16:23).
Augustus had said before he died that he hoped that he had laid the foundation for a kingdom that would last immovably. At Caesarea Philippi, in the shadows of the Augustan temple, Jesus declared, ” Upon this Rock, I will build My Church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18).
Catch the irony of the historical contrasts. Caesar Augustus is dead and his ashes are in an urn buried in the Mausoleum of Augustus on the banks of the Tiber River in Rome. On the other hand, the Lord Jesus died on a cruel cross, but was raised from the dead from a tomb in Jerusalem and has ascended into Heaven where He is seated at the right hand of the Father. Caesar Augustus’ great empire was in total shambles only a few years after his death and it no longer exists today. On the other hand, the Church of Jesus Christ continued and will continue to be built until He returns to take His Church home to be with Himself (John 14:1-6; I Thess. 4:13-18).
A discerning First-century AD Roman philosopher once stated: “Caesar can bring peace to the world; both on land and sea, but he can not bring peace to the hearts of men and women.” I am sure the Apostle Paul was aware of that statement when he penned the words to the church in Rome: ” Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:1, 2). The word justified is a legal term for the act of God whereby He declares a sinner righteous. When a person places their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and Him alone, God declares that person righteous. Because that person is righteous, they have peace with God, something Augustus could not provide for the people of the Roman Empire.
Caesar Augustus was a nice guy and very generous with his money (Suetonius, Deified Augustus 41; LCL 1: 189), helping people out whenever and wherever he could, but he was still a sinner and could not pay for his own sins, let alone the sins of the world. The Apostle Peter, writing from Rome, put it eloquently, yet simply: ” knowing that [we] were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold … but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (I Pet. 1:18, 19). Only the Lord Jesus Christ, God manifest in human flesh, could pay the debt that each of us owed a Holy God. On the Cross He cried, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). The Greek word, tetelestai, is an economic term for a transaction that has been paid in full. There is nothing we have to do, nor is there anything we can do, to pay for our salvation. It has already been paid for us by the Lord Jesus.
To the church at Philippi in Macedonia, a Roman colony and the place where Octavian (later to be called Caesar Augustus) and Mark Anthony defeated Brutus and Cassius, Paul wrote about the ” Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” and he also wrote about the ” God of peace” (Phil. 4:7, 9); Something and some One which Caesar Augustus knew nothing about.
How do we apply these words of the angels to our lives today? The shepherds responded by going to Bethlehem to see the Babe wrapped in swaddling cloth lying in a manger. These shepherds were no ordinary shepherds. According to the rabbinic sources, they were the ones who raised the lambs and sheep for the Temple sacrifices. They knew of the many lambs sacrificed in the Temple. They also knew that the blood of the lambs only atoned for, or covered the sins of, the nation, but the blood of these lambs never took away the sin. They knew better than most people the limitation of the blood of the lambs they raised for the Temple. Because of this limitation, they were looking forward to the day when the Lord would provide the Lamb of God that would take away the sin of the world forever (John 1:29). By faith, they understood that the baby Jesus (YHWH is salvation) would be their Savior and He would not only atone for sin, but would take their sins completely away forever.
After seeing Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus, they returned to their sheepfolds ” glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them” (Luke 2:20). From Joseph, they would have heard that Jesus would “save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). How much these shepherds knew of the death of Christ, we are not told. But in a bit of irony, they had seen the Lamb of God who would put them out of business some 35 years later. When the Lord Jesus died on Calvary’s cross He paid for sin, once and for all, and there was no more need for the sacrifices in the Temple (Heb. 9:26-10:18). Have you accepted the good tidings that the angels spoke about? Have you trusted the Savior that they proclaimed? Or do you trust in one of Satan’s pseudo-messiahs? Are we looking for “heaven on earth” or are you searching for a happy life with one of Satan’s gimmicks?
As the Apostle Peter says, ” We have a more sure word of prophecy” (II Pet. 1:19; cf. Isa. 8:19, 20). We do not need to read our daily horoscope in the newspaper, nor call 1-800-PSYCHIC, or have our palms read, or consult the dead at a séance in order to find out the future or to have a fulfilling life. All these things are condemned by the Scriptures, and forbidden for believers to be engaged in. In order to find fulfillment in our life and to discern God’s will for our life, we need to read the Word of God and understand the principles laid down in the Word for our lives and use these to determine what God’s will is for our individual lives. It is also the Word of God that tells us what the future will be for the Church, Israel and an unbelieving world. It also answers the question: Who will rule the earth? It will not be Caesar Augustus, or any other puppet in Satan’s closet, but it will be the Lord Jesus Christ who will rule for a thousand years on the throne of David in Jerusalem. Even so, come Lord Jesus!
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