8 The Last Adam Did So Much Better

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“The First Adam received life, the Last Adam is a life-giving Spirit. Physical life comes first, then spiritual—a firm base shaped from the earth, a final completion coming out of heaven. The First Man was made out of earth, and people since then are earthy; the Second Man was made out of heaven, and people now can be heavenly. In the same way that we’ve worked from our earthy origins, let’s embrace our heavenly ends.”[A]

The previous chapter, which dealt with our ancient forbears and their rebellion against God, left off with these solemn words:

So God expelled them from the Garden of Eden and sent them to work the ground, the same dirt out of which they’d been made. He threw them out of the garden and stationed angel–cherubim and a revolving sword of fire east of it, guarding the path to the Tree–of–Life.[i]

If this had been an ordinary narrative written by mere humans, the whole tragic story might well have ended then and there. After all, God would have been justified in washing his hands of mankind before things got any uglier. He had warned Adam in no certain terms what would happen if they disobeyed. He was on solid legal ground, and the two miscreants were caught red–handed. Case closed. And, as if being banished from the Garden of Eden wasn’t bad enough, there was another far more grievous consequence of their treason, death.  And the concept of death in the bible has both a physical and spiritual component.  The physical side of death is expressed rather despondently by the Psalmist:

For all our days have declined in Your fury;
We have finished our years like a sigh.
As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years,
Or if due to strength, eighty years,
Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow;
For soon it is gone and we fly away.[ii]

The death referred to above commences the moment our spirit separates from our body––but that’s only the beginning.  In two well–known New Testament passages, we are reminded, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”[iii] and “For the wages of sin is death…”[iv]  So, lost souls go on to be eternally separated from the God who made them.  This last stage is known in scripture as the “second death”—a terrifying prospect.

But then, if these “problems” were left up to humans to solve, the omnipotent God who flung the universe into being with a word would have to admit defeat at the hands of mere mortals in full view of the collective intelligences of the universe. He would be “forced” to step aside and let justice take its course, eternally separating the creator from the creatures he so desperately loved.  Not likely, read on.

Divine conundrum

Put yourself in God’s shoes: for anyone other than God himself, the following “problem” would be virtually insurmountable:

On the one hand, God is characterized by exquisite order, unalloyed holiness, and uncompromising justice. Consequently, every human being is accountable—to the last detail—for every attitude or action taken in this life, whether they are aware of it or not.  God’s “cosmic courtroom,” energized by its unalterable universal moral laws, demands swift and proportional justice. Adam and Eve were manifestly guilty of the most flagrant offense of all, defying a direct order from God to his face.  Then Adam added to the insult by accusing God of giving him the woman who led him astray. This was an open–and–shut case if ever there was one.

On the other hand, the God revealed in the scriptures is not a dispassionate and remote force or thing. He is a person, possessing the defining characteristics of personality, including intellect, will, and emotions. As the creator of man in his image and likeness, he is intimately connected with humanity, his most precious race of creatures, and when they hurt, he hurts. He identifies with us, so much so that in the fullness of time, he took on human form and exposed himself to life in a fallen and hostile world:

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.[v]

So how can the demands of his holiness and justice be reconciled with the compelling force of his love and mercy? Bear in mind that this adjudication process is not done in private, but in full view of all intelligences, principalities, and powers in the universe. God’s own standards of holiness and justice are continually being evaluated and weighed—his reputation is at stake in this contest. This is clear in the following Old Testament passage, which reflects God’s continual frustration with his people, even in the face of his promises to restore Israel to its former glory:

Therefore, tell Israel, “Message of God, the Master: I’m not doing this for you, Israel. I’m doing it for me, to save my character, my holy name, which you’ve blackened in every country where you’ve gone. I’m going to put my great and holy name on display, the name that has been ruined in so many countries, the name that you blackened wherever you went. Then the nations will realize who I really am, that I am God, when I show my holiness through you so that they can see it with their own eyes.”[vi]

Sin, which is any attitude or action that falls short of God’s perfection [literally, missing the mark, an archery term], cannot just be winked away or simply dismissed [even if he wanted to, which he does not]—at least not in the universe that God in–fact created. To overlook or minimize the slightest holy demand would be to call into question God’s righteous character, his holy law, and his authority to administer universal affairs fairly and consistently. Who would respect a court of law that arbitrarily sentenced one man to death for a parking violation and let another off scot–free for murder?

Now there are those who would say, “God is God, can’t he do anything? Why not just wink away the sin and let everyone off?” After all, the logic goes, he created the laws, he can break them if he chooses. To be sure, secular man has been habitually drawn to the irrationality of creating a universe of his own, complete with imaginative ways of skirting the rules, shading the truth, and evading capture. But alas, it’s only an illusion that works for a while but is ultimately doomed once the long arm of God’s reality finally reaches out in judgment.

Remember Titanic? As she began to sink, there was nowhere to hide onboard, no matter how inventive people were in postponing the inevitable—orchestral music and all. It is the same for us earth dwellers. King David once wrote:

Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit?
to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
you’re already there waiting!
Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
At night I’m immersed in the light!”
It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.[vii]

Even God cannot arbitrarily change the demands of his own righteousness. If he saves anyone who has been justly condemned by his law, that salvation must fully satisfy the requirements of his righteousness—to the letter. God’s ultimate solution to this divine conundrum is as creative as it is radical. A hint: someone is going to have to “pay the bill,” but not just anyone—one who has “the assets” to settle the bill in full. That brings us to the notion of substitution—the innocent in place of the guilty…

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“Gather My godly ones to Me, those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.”[viii]

The relationship between Adam, Eve, and God was radically changed as a result of their eating of the “Tree–of–Knowledge–of–Good–and–Evil.” Before their “fall,” these two innocents communed freely and spontaneously with their God in perfect harmony. One can only imagine the sublime times of childlike play they had while sharing their brand–new lives with their creator. Now, all was changed. No longer could they just approach God and behave as though nothing had happened. Something catastrophic had occurred that made direct contact with God on their own recognizance impossible. They needed to be covered and protected from God’s dazzling holiness. They were no longer of the same spiritual species as God.  They, and their descendants would need a new means of approach to God—that of substitutionary sacrifice.

Following the “red cord” through the Bible

It is tempting to think of the Old Testament of the Bible (the scriptures written before the time of Jesus’ life on earth) and the New Testament (the scriptures written after the time of Jesus’ life on earth) to be entirely separate with no connection or relationship. But both make a claim to divine authorship, and it would hardly seem reasonable for the same God to write seemingly contradictory messages to mankind and leave it up to the so–called experts to sort it all out. Furthermore, as the New Testament records, Jesus and his followers constantly quoted the Old Testament, which indicates their evident belief in its collective authenticity.

But there is more to this story than meets the eye. A “red cord” of truth runs all the way through the Bible, connecting the Old Testament and the New Testament as one underlying story—God’s redemption of mankind. The color red speaks of blood—blood sacrifices of the innocent offered in the place and stead of the guilty. From the foreshadowing of the leather coverings for Adam and Eve, to the untold millions of animal sacrifices by the Jewish priests, to the final and ultimate sacrifice of God’s Son, the unbreakable “red cord” traces the consistent narrative sweeping across the ages, from the first book of the Jewish Old Testament to the last book of the Christian New Testament, “all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness..”[ix]

From the dark days of Adam and Eve’s ghastly rebellion:

When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she’d know everything!—she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate.[x]

To the restoration of mankind to its proper place in God’s master plan for the universe:

Then the Angel showed me Water–of–Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed. The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the center. His servants will offer God service—worshiping, they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. Never again will there be any night. No one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, the Master, is all the light anyone needs. And they will rule with him age after age after age.[xi]

From our original parents’ ignominious banishment from the Garden of Eden, to their most distant descendant’s eternal restoration in the heavenly city, God saw to it that his children would not be abandoned to their own frivolous devices. But at what a cost to him—the blood of the Lamb!

You call out to God for help and he helps—he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living. Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead–end, empty–headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.[xii]

Although all this talk of blood may appear unseemly to sensitive souls, remember that God has been trying to get people’s attention here and what better way to illustrate sin’s seriousness than witnessing the shedding of the life–blood of a living creature. The message? You sin, and someone’s got to die—either you, or your divinely approved substitute. God explains that the blood is not his focus—rather the life that is represented by the blood:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.[xiii]

It boils down to this: sin created a separation between mankind and God. That separation could only be bridged by a divinely appointed protocol, a sacrificial covering. A life for a life, but not just any life—the life of God’s own sinless and perfect son.

Don’t be confused by ancient rituals of human sacrifice

Since the beginning, the histories of countless cultures have been stained with the blood of ritual human sacrifice. In a study published in the journal Nature, such pervasive practices were often intended to placate the gods or to extract material benefits, or both. The study goes further to suggest an even darker motive for such killings:

The ancients could kill you in a million different ways, and give you a million different reasons why it needed to be done. In much of the pre–modern world, ritual sacrifice was framed as necessary for the good of the society at large—the only way to guarantee, say, a plentiful harvest or success in war.

But the priests and rulers who sanctioned such killings may have had another motive, a new study suggests. An analysis of more than seven dozen Austronesian cultures revealed that the practice of human sacrifices tended to make societies increasingly less egalitarian and eventually gave rise to strict, inherited class systems. In other words, ritual killings helped keep the powerful in power and everyone else in check.[xiv]

Time and again, the Devil faithfully produced counterfeit versions of every good and worthy principle in scripture. The practice of sacrificial offerings is no exception. All ancient cultures were familiar with the general principle of sacrifice, having emerged from common genetic stock going back to Adam and Eve. Under satanic influence, many such cultures substituted human sacrifice for animal sacrifice to buy off God in exchange for material blessings. As the research suggests, these vain and blasphemous practices may, in the end, have been encouraged by the powers–that–be to reinforce class systems, where “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

The God of the Bible never—repeat, never—prescribed human sacrifice. Nor was sacrifice intended to make deals with God. God was teaching his people that sin is serious, that he is holy, and that, if you want to come near to him, you first need a divinely appointed sacrificial covering.

God offered the solution to the problem to human sinfulness by providing a special kind of covering—first in the Garden as a prototypical image of what was destined to become the means of approach to God throughout the rest of the Bible. This means of spiritual covering, as revealed progressively in the Old Testament, started out in the earliest days as:

  • One sacrifice to cover one man, then,
  • One sacrifice to cover a family, then,
  • One sacrifice to cover a nation (Israel). But it didn’t stop there. The New Testament continues the theme of spiritual covering and reveals,
  • One final, ultimate sacrifice which would cover the whole world—the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

The significance of this representative system of substitutionary sacrifice cannot be overestimated. It lies at the heart of the gospel of salvation. Follow along, and you’ll see what we mean:

One animal for one man…initially by God’s own hand to cover Adam and Eve

God made leather clothing for Adam and his wife and dressed them.[xv]

Recall that Adam and Eve disobeyed a direct order of God and ate of the “Tree–of–Knowledge–of–Good–and–Evil.” The resultant effects upon their formerly carefree lives were immediate and devastating. Among them were a searing sense of guilt and shame which drove them to fashion clothing out of fig leaves to cover up their nakedness. But then God comes along and instructs them to take off their makeshift coverings and to put on coverings that he provided from God’s own hands. The next thing they saw were blood soaked animal skins from freshly killed innocent creatures who up that moment, were just “minding their own business” in the garden. Thus, the principle of substitution—the innocent for the guilty—was introduced in a garden that had never seen death before. We have every assurance from this that Adam and Eve are in heaven today because they had the good sense to accept these coverings from God and put them on—finally they listened to God and obeyed his instructions and were saved from their own misadventures.

One animal for one man…as passed along to Adam and Eve’s children

Adam slept with Eve his wife. She conceived and had Cain. She said, “I’ve gotten a man, with God’s help!” Then she had another baby, Abel. Abel was a herdsman and Cain a farmer.

Time passed. Cain brought an offering to God from the produce of his farm. Abel also brought an offering, but from the firstborn animals of his herd, choice cuts of meat. God liked Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering didn’t get his approval. Cain lost his temper and went into a sulk.

God spoke to Cain: “Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well, won’t you be accepted? And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it.”

Cain had words with his brother. They were out in the field; Cain came at Abel his brother and killed him. God said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “How should I know? Am I his babysitter?”

God said, “What have you done! The voice of your brother’s blood is calling to me from the ground. From now on you’ll get nothing but curses from this ground; you’ll be driven from this ground that has opened its arms to receive the blood of your murdered brother. You’ll farm this ground, but it will no longer give you its best. You’ll be a homeless wanderer on Earth.”[xvi]

And here we stand at the birthplace of two polar–opposites.  Man–made religion on the one hand by Cain, versus true faith, by Abel. Cain and Abel were two sons from among many children that Adam would have fathered over the 930 years that he lived:

When Adam was 130 years old, he had a son who was just like him, his very spirit and image, and named him Seth. After the birth of Seth, Adam lived another 800 years, having more sons and daughters. Adam lived a total of 930 years. And he died.[xvii]

Cain and Abel were close and spent time together working side by side in their respective specialties as herdsman and farmer. These two brothers must have also worshipped God together, as well, and that’s where the story gets interesting. Note what these two had in common:

  • Both Cain and Abel were born outside the Garden of Eden.
  • Both were sons of fallen Adam and Eve.
  • Each was a sinner, made so by birth and by personal behavior.
  • Each had a fallen nature inherited from their parents.
  • Neither Cain nor Abel were innocent—both were spiritually “lost.”
  • Both were born “of the flesh”—that is, like all other men, nothing special.

Yet we read that one of the brothers was accepted by God and the other was rejected. Interestingly, the difference did not lie in the men themselves but in the manner of their approach to God. That is, in their offerings: “Cain brought an offering to God from the produce of his farm. Abel also brought an offering, but from the firstborn animals of his herd, choice cuts of meat. God liked Abel and his offering, but Cain and his offering didn’t get his approval.”

The differences could not be more instructive. Cain’s offerings were from the ground, the work of his hands, and bloodless; Abel’s offerings involved the killing of living creatures and the shedding of their blood. One was mirrored the original prototypical sacrifice at the hands of God on behalf of Adam and Eve in the Garden: “God made leather clothing for Adam and his wife and dressed them,” and the other offering was a man–made proxy that was not prescribed by God.

Adam and Eve would have carefully instructed their sons in this life–and–death matter, and there was no excuse for Cain’s selfish disobedience. God’s rejection was righteous and swift, but there was also ample room given for Cain to repent: “God spoke to Cain: ‘Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well, won’t you be accepted? And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it.’” Apparently Cain was in no mood to change his ways and the results were predictable. To contrast the “Way of Cain” versus the “Way of Abel:”

Way of Cain…religion as a pretext for true faith

Cain’s offerings reflected woeful ignorance of the seriousness of deep–seated sin and the need for an infinitely more far–reaching solution than the work of his feeble hands. He presented a bloodless offering, the fruit of a cursed earth, against everything he was told. And the source of his offering was the sweat of his brow, something the scripture later describes as works, which are man–generated substitutes for the real thing. Apart from the outright defiance of his approach, how would Cain ever know when he has done enough of his work to assure acceptance? Apparently, he didn’t care—he just wanted to get away with the minimum and hope for the best. What does that say about what he thought of God?

But there is great wisdom in God’s instructions given first to Adam and then to his progeny. God wants his people to “rest” assured that we are accepted and not be trapped under a spiritual “Sword of Damocles,” never sure of our fate:

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore, let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.[xviii]

But that rest is only possible for those who carefully obey God’s specific instructions on how to approach him. Naturally then, the way of Cain produced nothing but anxiety and fear, because after all, the works method looks to itself for merit. And, in a twisted quid–pro–quo type of business transaction, Cain is seeking to place God in his debt: “You owe me, God!” The Way of Cain seeks to define its own rules of approach to God, and God will have none of it.

Cain’s disobedience leaves him still “in his sins.” He is conscience–smitten yet without remorse and, in his biting jealousy, ends up shedding innocent blood anyway—that of his brother Abel. God is broken–hearted. “God said, ‘What have you done! The voice of your brother’s blood is calling to me from the ground. From now on you’ll get nothing but curses from this ground; you’ll be driven from this ground that has opened its arms to receive the blood of your murdered brother.’” Cain tops it all off by abandoning God and becoming a restless wanderer focused on building cities and decorating a fallen, sin–cursed world.

Way of Abel…true faith based upon obedience to God

Abel’s story is ever so much more encouraging. He accepts the idea that he is a sinner responsible for his own actions and that there are eternally serious consequences for ignoring, discounting, or covering up the matter. He comes out from behind any pretenses, presents himself before his merciful God, is filled with heartfelt remorse, and wants to do things God’s way. His offerings to God, as instructed, involve the killing of living creatures and the shedding of their blood. Abel understands he has no merit in himself and recognizes that the merit lies in his offerings, the substitutionary sacrifices of innocent creatures.

Many centuries later, the scriptures reveal God’s ultimate plan of offering the life of his own son to finally put an end to sacrifice and to settle the sin question once and for all:

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?[xix]

Abel wisely places his faith outside of himself to a God–ordained substitute, thus placing the death of another between himself and the consequences of his sin. He finds himself accepted by God in his offering, a spotless victim, and not in himself. He receives immediate relief from guilt, peace with God, a clear conscience, and a renewed spirit. He has not attempted Cain’s foil of trying to make God his debtor; instead, rightly positioning himself as the one who owes God everything. He is now free to joyously live his life in full view of God. Rather than running, hiding, or wandering, he stands in his position of acceptance and blessing.

We are reminded of what the Apostle Paul wrote many centuries later about the importance of standing in the immovable promises of God and not in the sinking sand of our own efforts at establishing our righteousness:

Friends, let me go over the Message with you one final time— this Message that I proclaimed and that you made your own; this Message on which you took your stand and by which your life has been saved…The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says…[xx]

Stand there and nowhere else! Forget about your well–intentioned but misdirected attempts at pleasing God (good deeds, days sober, turning over a new leaf, etc.) Stand where Abel stood—IN his sacrifice.

One animal for one family…by Noah on behalf of his family after the great flood

Noah disembarked with his sons and wife and his sons’ wives. Then all the animals, crawling creatures, birds—every creature on the face of the Earth—left the ship family by family.

Noah built an altar to God. He selected clean animals and birds from every species and offered them as burnt offerings on the altar. God smelled the sweet fragrance and thought to himself, “I’ll never again curse the ground because of people. I know they have this bent toward evil from an early age, but I’ll never again kill off everything living as I’ve just done.[xxi]

Mankind had become so corrupt that God had to intervene. Here is what the scripture says:

As far as God was concerned, the Earth had become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting—life itself corrupt to the core. God said to Noah, “It’s all over. It’s the end of the human race. The violence is everywhere; I’m making a clean sweep.”[xxii]

After instructing the only faithful man on earth at the time to build an ark, and after Noah loaded his family on board, God sent a global flood to wipe out all evil and start again with a tiny remnant of men and animals. When the deluge was over and the waters receded, Noah landed to settle his family and to release the animals.

Noah, now the father of a newly repopulated earth, inaugurates the era by offering blood sacrifices to God from among the animals in the ark in thanksgiving for deliverance from the terrible deluge. This confirms the continuation of the prediluvian tradition of animal blood sacrifice as the singular means of approaching God. God rewards Noah’s offering with a promise to never again judge the earth through flooding.

The parallels between this ancient cataclysm and an event many centuries later in the death of Jesus Christ are striking. As the flood waters of God’s judgment billowed over earth, killing its doomed inhabitants, so mankind’s collective evil billowed over Christ on the cross, killing him. And, just as the extent of the flood was global and encompassed all mankind, so the death of Christ had a global impact, paying the price for all of mankind’s sins and making salvation available to anyone willing to receive it. As Noah became the father of newly repopulated earth, having survived the flood, so Jesus, having survived the wrath of God in resurrection, became the progenitor of a new population of people (collectively known as the church) and a new order of creation. The scriptures record the cosmic impact of this extraordinary event:

And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body. He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.[xxiii]

Sacrifice marked the path of Abraham, the great patriarch

After all this, God tested Abraham. God said, “Abraham!” “Yes?” answered Abraham. “I’m listening.” He said, “Take your dear son Isaac whom you love and go to the land of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I’ll point out to you.”

Abraham got up early in the morning and saddled his donkey. He took two of his young servants and his son Isaac. He had split wood for the burnt offering. He set out for the place God had directed him. On the third day he looked up and saw the place in the distance. Abraham told his two young servants, “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I are going over there to worship; then we’ll come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and gave it to Isaac his son to carry. He carried the flint and the knife. The two of them went off together. Isaac said to Abraham his father, “Father?” “Yes, my son.” “We have flint and wood, but where’s the sheep for the burnt offering?”

Abraham said, “Son, God will see to it that there’s a sheep for the burnt offering.” And they kept on walking together.

They arrived at the place to which God had directed him. Abraham built an altar. He laid out the wood. Then he tied up Isaac and laid him on the wood. Abraham reached out and took the knife to kill his son.

Just then an angel of God called to him out of Heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Yes, I’m listening.” “Don’t lay a hand on that boy! Don’t touch him! Now I know how fearlessly you fear God; you didn’t hesitate to place your son, your dear son, on the altar for me.”

Abraham looked up. He saw a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. Abraham took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. Abraham named that place God–Yireh (God–Sees–to–It). That’s where we get the saying, “On the mountain of God, he sees to it.”[xxiv]

This is a story about a test of the reality of Abraham’s faith in God. God never intended for Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, but instead wanted to test Abraham’s heart—would he place allegiance to his nearest and dearest son over his allegiance to God? Of course, God knew what Abraham was going to do, but Abraham needed to know how much weight God placed on loyalty and this test simply brought out what was already there. Abraham believed God could raise Isaac from the dead, if it came to that. Then, having spared Abraham the anguish of offering the life of his son to God, miraculously a ram is provided for Abraham to sacrifice to “seal the deal.” Limitless blessings followed Abraham’s heroic obedience:

The angel of God spoke from Heaven a second time to Abraham: “I swear—God’s sure word!—because you have gone through with this, and have not refused to give me your son, your dear, dear son, I’ll bless you—oh, how I’ll bless you! And I’ll make sure that your children flourish—like stars in the sky! Like sand on the beaches! And your descendants will defeat their enemies. All nations on Earth will find themselves blessed through your descendants because you obeyed me.[xxv]

This is a foreshadowing of another more poignant father/son encounter. Many centuries later, God the Father would be offering his Son Jesus on the very same mountain. Only this time, there would be no restraining voice from heaven offering a substitute. Jesus was the substitute, and the sacrifice would have to be made—otherwise man was without hope. The heavenly Father’s heart would be pierced through with the same anguish of soul that he had spared Abraham. The parallels are remarkable. Isaac began his final journey riding on a donkey, and, less than a week before his death, Jesus entered Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey. Isaac carried the wood for the altar up the mountain, and Jesus carried the wooden cross up to Golgotha where he was sacrificed. Isaac trusted his father and followed him obediently to the very end, and Jesus trusted and obeyed his heavenly father, despite his plea, “If possible, this cup be removed.” On the cross, with eternal sufferings descending in waves over him, and with the words, “Why have you forsaken me?” on his lips, Jesus forgave his murderers and submitted to the Father’s desire for him to give up his spirit in death.

One animal for one family…by the Jews for deliverance from Egypt

God said to Moses and Aaron while still in Egypt, “This month is to be the first month of the year for you. Address the whole community of Israel; tell them that on the tenth of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one lamb to a house. If the family is too small for a lamb, then share it with a close neighbor, depending on the number of persons involved. Be mindful of how much each person will eat. Your lamb must be a healthy male, one year old; you can select it from either the sheep or the goats. Keep it penned until the fourteenth day of this month and then slaughter it—the entire community of Israel will do this—at dusk. Then take some of the blood and smear it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which you will eat it. You are to eat the meat, roasted in the fire, that night, along with bread, made without yeast, and bitter herbs. Don’t eat any of it raw or boiled in water; make sure it’s roasted—the whole animal, head, legs, and innards. Don’t leave any of it until morning; if there are leftovers, burn them in the fire.

“And here is how you are to eat it: Be fully dressed with your sandals on and your stick in your hand. Eat in a hurry; it’s the Passover to God.

“I will go through the land of Egypt on this night and strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, whether human or animal, and bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am God. The blood will serve as a sign on the houses where you live. When I see the blood I will pass over you—no disaster will touch you when I strike the land of Egypt.”[xxvi]

This episode is one of the most instructive in the Bible. For the entire four hundred years of their captivity to the Egyptians, the Jews maintained a separate lifestyle and value system, along with strict religious practices centered on animal sacrifice. Their sacrificial animals were carefully bred, and only the choicest specimens were offered for sacrifice. Now, after all those centuries of being under Pharaoh’s boot, God was calling his people out of Egypt to permanently separate themselves and to move on to the Promised Land. Pharaoh’s continued intransigence called for a successively severe wave of plagues upon Egypt to loosen his grip on his Jewish captives. Nothing seemed to work until the last plague, which involved sending the Angel of Death to every home in Egypt and taking the lives of all firstborn children, including Pharaoh’s.

To make sure that this terrible final plague would spare God’s people, the Jews were instructed to take to their homes on the fateful night of death’s visitation and to place a special mark upon their doorposts so that the Angel of Death would see the mark and immediately “pass over” them. That special mark was the blood of a meticulously prepared sacrificial lamb. There was weeping in the land that dark night, as countless Egyptians lay dead and the Jews were spared. Pharaoh finally came to his senses, and the God’s people were released.

It is significant that God did not require the Jews to go through elaborate rituals. There was no mention of the Law or of purifying themselves. None of that. Just “Take some of the blood and smear it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which you will eat it.” That’s it. Nor was the matter of personal worthiness ever raised. The people inside their now–protected homes might have been orthodox in their religious practice or not particularly religious at all—it didn’t matter. What counted was the blood.

If the blood was over the doorpost, they were saved—not about to be saved or hoping to be saved, but wholly saved, then and there—not because of their state of religious observance, but because the blood was there when it counted most—when the Angel of Death passed by. God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.” There was no call to understand it all, have “an epiphany,” get emotional, clean up their lives, or any other such thing. They just needed to rely on God’s testimony and to “cover” themselves with the blood.

The same applies to us—Jew and Gentile alike—in this present age, although the simplicity of the message is often buried under layers of religious dogma and wrong–headed theology. The Angel of Death, a picture of God’s judgment upon sin, will come sooner or later for each one of us. And, unless we are “covered” by the blood of a God–appointed sacrifice, we will perish spiritually just like those “uncovered” firstborn children of Egypt perished physically.

The Apostle Paul, formerly a very prominent Jewish leader himself, writes of the direct parallel between the Passover Lamb of the Old Testament and the blood shedding of Jesus Christ on the cross, as recorded in the New Testament:

The Messiah, our Passover Lamb, has already been sacrificed for the Passover meal, and we are the Unraised Bread part of the Feast.[xxvii]

As we pointed out earlier in this chapter, the Apostle Peter also notes that Israel’s Messiah was appointed to be their ultimate Passover lamb, from before time began:

Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead–end, empty–headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb.[xxviii]

In the above passages, the work of Christ is spoken of in the past tense: “has already been sacrificed”; “He paid with Christ’s sacred blood.” The work of redemption is complete and entirely efficacious. So, don’t even think about adding anything to his perfect work by throwing in your own “good works,” however well–intended. Paul and Peter both emphasize that anyone who places their faith in Jesus Christ for their salvation will receive deliverance from spiritual death, exactly as the Jews received deliverance from physical death those many centuries ago. So why is this clear note of eternal hope and freedom so seldom sounded in our modern world?

Over the centuries, the simple gospel has become buried under the many seemingly innocuous religious processes, procedures, and ceremonies practiced by many of the nominally Christian religious institutions. In the process, the clear path to salvation has become hopelessly obscured for millions of true seekers. Although many such institutions include Jesus Christ and his substitutionary death somewhere in the mix of their orthodoxy, these critical foundational elements take a back seat to denominational nuances, organizational twists, and a crazy quilt of various doctrines regarding salvation, eternal security, and the assurance of a relationship with God. No wonder many such seekers throw their arms in the air and abandon the search.

But don’t you be snowed by all the noise. This is nothing more than the Devil’s way to combat the mortal threat to his “kingdom” by the true and unadorned gospel message of Jesus Christ. Look at it this way: in military operations, signal jamming is routinely used to disrupt the command and control systems of opponents. The resultant confusion of signals often renders the enemy powerless to coordinate actions or even to defend itself. Satan has been jamming the church’s signals with religious mumbo–jumbo for millennia, but in an important exchange between the Apostle Peter and Jesus, the battle lines were drawn and the outcome assured:

Jesus came back, “God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.[xxix]

Look past all the denominational confusion and find the “pearl of great price” at the heart of the Christian faith. It’s all about Jesus—from before time began all the way through to the end of time—who he was and what he did on the cross for us:

The Master declares, “I’m A to Z. I’m The God Who Is, The God Who Was, and The God About to Arrive. I’m the Sovereign–Strong.”[xxx]

“Don’t fear: I am First, I am Last, I’m Alive. I died, but I came to life, and my life is now forever. See these keys in my hand? They open and lock Death’s doors, they open and lock Hell’s gates.”[xxxi]

Before he went to the cross, Jesus made the following seemingly audacious claim:

Jesus said, “I am the Road [to salvation], also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You’ve even seen him!”[xxxii]

There is only one “Road” because there was only one perfect sacrificial Lamb whose blood was worthy to atone for the sins of the world.

Many people have a suspicion that there is more to life than meets the eye. Perhaps they even believe in an afterlife. And, if there is, they want to make sure that they are on the right side of the powers–that–be to assure arrival at a hospitable eternal destination. They may have heard about the rather more distasteful alternatives, as described in books like Dante’s Inferno or in Bible passages, like: “Then Death and Hell were hurled into Lake Fire. This is the second death—Lake Fire. Anyone whose name was not found inscribed in the Book of Life was hurled into Lake Fire.”[xxxiii] The stakes are high here.

If God said something directly, would you believe it? Would you place your confidence where God places his? We all know what happened on earth when Jesus died, but something happened in heaven that was of equal importance:

But when the Messiah arrived [in heaven], high priest of the superior things of this new covenant, he bypassed the old tent and its trappings in this created world and went straight into heaven’s “tent”—the true Holy Place—once and for all. He also bypassed the sacrifices consisting of goat and calf blood, instead using his own blood as the price to set us free once and for all. If that animal blood and the other rituals of purification were effective in cleaning up certain matters of our religion and behavior, think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out. Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead–end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God.[xxxiv]

Acting as high priest of all believers, Jesus carried his own blood into the presence of God and sprinkled it there, settling forever the toxic issue of mankind’s sin. Do you think that God would accept the blood of a mere animal or of some Messianic imposter? We’re talking about the Holy of Holies of heaven itself. Would he not know the genuine article from a counterfeit? Would he be fooled by our “good works” or religious observances? Could anything less than the blood of Jesus cleanse the heavens of the lethal effects of mankind’s collective sins and Satan’s rebellion? Fix your gaze where God fixes his, and don’t be distracted by religious mumbo–jumbo. The Jews had their paschal [lit. of, or relating to, Passover] lamb which protected them from physical harm, and we have the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Rest your case where God rests his—upon the blood of Christ.

God’s plan all along

And this was no afterthought with God. Before time began, before the first man was created, God had already counted the cost and prepared the way back for yet–uncreated man, after he rebelled, to return to his creator. God wasn’t caught by surprise by the sin of Adam and Eve. Although he very much preferred that they obey his commands, he knew that they were also capable of great mischief. Here was God’s plan from the start:

He [God] paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.[xxxv]

And, echoing the timelessness of God’s plan of salvation, the book of Revelation says:

All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.[xxxvi]

These passages reinforce the astounding claim that the Lamb of God was slain before man was created. Of course, we know that in our realm of time and space, this occurred two thousand years ago when Jesus was crucified. But, in eternity, the matter had been settled long before. God’s eternal purposes were always centered in his son, Jesus. C. H. McIntosh wrote:

Christ was ever the primary thought in the divine mind; and hence, the moment he began to speak or act, he took occasion to shadow forth that One who occupied the highest place in his counsels and affections; and, as we pass along the current of inspiration, we find that every ceremony, every rite, every ordinance and every sacrifice pointed forward to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Returning to the Passover event, we have already read, “You are to eat the meat, roasted in the fire, that night, along with bread, made without yeast, and bitter herbs. Don’t eat any of it raw or boiled in water; make sure it’s roasted—the whole animal, head, legs, and innards. Don’t leave any of it until morning; if there are leftovers, burn them in the fire.”

Through fire, the paschal lamb was cleansed and prepared for consumption by the people. Similarly, Jesus, the Lamb of God, was subjected to the fire of God’s judgement in our place for our sins. He experienced the full weight of God’s stored up wrath against mankind’s sin and rebellion as our substitute. (The technical term for this is propitiation). But death could not hold him because he was an innocent man “yet without sin.” And, with this propitiation, Jesus defeated death forever. Here is how the Bible describes “the death of death”:

We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death–as–the–end. Never again will death have the last word. When Jesus died, he took sin down with him, but alive he brings God down to us.[xxxvii]

Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by his death. By embracing death, taking it into himself, he destroyed the Devil’s hold on death and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death.[xxxviii]

God’s people, now freed from the clutches of Egypt, temporarily become wandering nomads on their way to the promised land. God instructs Moses to establish a more formalized sacrificial system centered upon a temporary portable tabernacle for his people, administered by a permanently appointed priesthood from the tribe of Aaron. This new sacrificial system is outlined in the book of Leviticus and, while loaded with minute ceremonial details, sets forth deeply instructive word pictures of how a sinful people can maintain a rich and wholesome relationship with their God through animal sacrifice. It turns out that every detail of these sacrifices foreshadows the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ which, at the time of Moses, was still many centuries in the future.

Early in Israel’s desert wanderings, following their miraculous escape from four hundred years of captivity in Egypt, many of the Jews not only rebelled against God and fell into the most egregious forms of idolatry, but also they demanded a new relationship with God. Rather than simply relating to God as obedient loving children, they wanted the rules so that they could do the minimum and keep God “off their backs.” At their insistence, God obliged the people by issuing his rules in the form of the Law, written on tablets of stone. These rules arrived in a terrifying series of encounters from the top of the ominous Mount Sanai, accompanied by deafening sounds, lightning, thunder, and ground tremors. The message from God was clear: “If this is how you want to relate to me, here are your ‘rules.’ Now try to live up to them!” Sad.

In their delusional state, the members of this unruly mob believed that they could truly live up to God’s righteous standards on their own. Later in scripture, Paul explains the futility of sinful people trying to live up to the Law as a means of pleasing God:

God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.

The law always ended up being used as a Band–Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.

Those who think they can do it on their own end up obsessed with measuring their own moral muscle but never get around to exercising it in real life. Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them—living and breathing God![xxxix]

The only person who could possibly live up to the Law was God’s own son, Jesus. Here is how the Epistle to the Galatians explains it:

But when the time arrived that was set by God the Father, God sent his Son, born among us of a woman, born under the conditions of the law so that he might redeem those of us who have been kidnapped by the law. Thus, we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance.[xl]

Jesus came to set us free from the claims of the law—not to insist that we live up to it. In the process, he cleared the way for us to become sons of God through rebirth rather than to remain servants or slaves of the law. Throughout scripture, God reminds his people of a fool–proof path to pleasing him—instead of relying upon our feeble attempts to live up to the law, we place a righteous sacrifice between ourselves and our sin. In the Old Testament dispensation, this was in the form of animal sacrifices, as detailed in the book of Leviticus. In the New Testament dispensation, it is by placing our faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins.

Now, as the book of Leviticus opens, God speaks to the people—not from the fiery mountain but from the far–friendlier portable tabernacle, which was the meeting place between God and man in grace. In contrast to the Law, which had no reference to sacrifice, God now provides a “mercy seat” within the tabernacle, administered through a holy priesthood, where sinful man could find safety and restoration. But before man (represented by the Jewish priest) could approach the mercy seat, it had to be sprinkled with the blood of a God–appointed sacrifice to atone for sin. Then and only then was it safe for mere mortals to come into the presence of the living God.

There are numerous offerings described in the book of Leviticus. They are loaded with spiritual significance in that they foreshadow the ultimate sacrifice—that of Christ on the cross. First, a word of explanation: deciphering the Old Testament scriptures can be daunting, and many novice Bible readers see in them no more than a historical account of an antiquated people and their seemingly archaic methods of worship. But when we “connect the dots” of the hundreds (322 to be exact) of Messianic prophecies sprinkled throughout those writings, a perfect picture of Jesus Christ emerges. Each specific class of sacrifice in those early religious ceremonies foreshadowed an aspect of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross that was to occur centuries later. These offerings as described in the book of Leviticus can be divided into voluntary and compulsory.

The voluntary offerings collectively spoke of the meritorious aspects of Christ as the only man who was ever truly qualified to be man’s savior and substitute—not just of the Jews but of the whole world. The “Burnt Offering” was the first of the three so-called voluntary offerings. This offering spoke of Christ’s willingness to do the will of his heavenly father despite the horrific suffering that he would have to endure. The second voluntary offering was the “Meal Offering,” which typified Christ’s perfect character and authentic manhood. The third offering was the “Peace Offering,” and signified the restored communion between God and man through Christ’s death on the cross.

The compulsory offerings, spoke of Christ taking on the collective demerits of mankind and suffering in our place for our sin. The first of the compulsory offerings was the “Sin Offering,” which typified Christ as our sin–bearer, literally being made sin for us. The second compulsory offering was the “Trespass Offering” as a picture of Christ paying the price and making restitution for the collective spiritual damage caused by mankind’s sins.

One animal for one nation

In one of the most solemn ceremonies on Israel’s calendar, the annual Day of Atonement was a time of deep national cleansing and renewal. Instead of the usual celebrating and feasting, this day was marked by mourning, fasting, and repentance. The importance of this day could not be overestimated:

This is standard practice for you, a perpetual ordinance. On the tenth day of the seventh month, both the citizen and the foreigner living with you are to enter into a solemn fast and refrain from all work, because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. In the presence of God you will be made clean of all your sins. It is a Sabbath of all Sabbaths. You must fast. It is a perpetual ordinance.[xli]

God repeatedly reassured Israel that if they strictly followed his ordinances, particularly relative to activities in and around the tabernacle, he would remain with them, giving them victory in war and blessing their nation. As to the people themselves, the ceremonies were intended to cleanse them, firstly because as descendants of Adam and Eve they were inherently sinful (basically, a nature problem), and secondly because they were continually disobeying God’s specific regulations—such infractions were known as trespasses. The solemn Day of Atonement described below addressed these spiritually crucial issues.

 This is the procedure for Aaron when he enters the Holy Place: He will bring a young bull for an Absolution–Offering and a ram for a Whole–Burnt–Offering; he will put on the holy linen tunic and the linen underwear, tie the linen sash around him, and put on the linen turban. These are the sacred vestments so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. Then from the Israelite community he will bring two male goats for an Absolution–Offering and a Whole–Burnt–Offering.

Aaron will offer the bull for his own Absolution–Offering in order to make atonement for himself and his household. Then he will set the two goats before God at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and cast lots over the two goats, one lot for God and the other lot for Azazel. He will offer the goat on which the lot to God falls as an Absolution–Offering. The goat on which the lot for Azazel falls will be sent out into the wilderness to Azazel to make atonement.

Aaron will present his bull for an Absolution–Offering to make atonement for himself and his household. He will slaughter his bull for the Absolution–Offering. He will take a censer full of burning coals from the Altar before God and two handfuls of finely ground aromatic incense and bring them inside the curtain and put the incense on the fire before God; the smoke of the incense will cover the Atonement–Cover which is over The Testimony so that he doesn’t die. He will take some of the bull’s blood and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the Atonement–Cover, then sprinkle the blood before the Atonement–Cover seven times.

Next he will slaughter the goat designated as the Absolution–Offering for the people and bring the blood inside the curtain. He will repeat what he does with the bull’s blood, sprinkling it on and before the Atonement–Cover. In this way he will make atonement for the Holy of Holies because of the uncleannesses of the Israelites, their acts of rebellion, and all their other sins. He will do the same thing for the Tent of Meeting which dwells among the people in the midst of their uncleanness. There is to be no one in the Tent of Meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Holy of Holies until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household, and the whole community of Israel.

Then he will come out to the Altar that is before God and make atonement for it. He will take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and smear it all around the four horns of the Altar. With his finger he will sprinkle some of the blood on it seven times to purify and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the Israelites.

When Aaron finishes making atonement for the Holy of Holies, the Tent of Meeting, and the Altar, he will bring up the live goat, lay both hands on the live goat’s head, and confess all the iniquities of the People of Israel, all their acts of rebellion, all their sins. He will put all the sins on the goat’s head and send it off into the wilderness, led out by a man standing by and ready. The goat will carry all their iniquities to an empty wasteland; the man will let him loose out there in the wilderness.[xlii]

God’s relationship with Israel was maintained through the sacrifices offered. He would dwell among them and extend his grace, mercy, and patience, based upon the faithful observance of the Day of Atonement each year. Two distinct aspects of atonement are put forth: the first, an offering to atone for the offended character of God, which was a result of man’s collective rejection of his rule in their lives; and the second to address the issues of sin and trespasses of law as committed by the people and which required “payment” to make right.

Even then, a spiritual veil separated God from the people, represented by a large curtain in the tabernacle, which led to the “Holy of Holies” chamber, where only the High Priest could enter. This was a veil that would not be pierced until centuries later, when Israel’s Messiah opened the way with his own blood, removing all hindrances for man to approach God.

Holy-of-HoliesIn preparing for this sacred ceremony, the High Priest Aaron was required to “dress down” in unadorned plain linen rather than wear his usual colorful and bejeweled attire. In so doing, he would take his place as a common servant instead of assuming his usual regal bearing. This reminded Aaron and his fellow countrymen that they were sinners who needed to approach God in total humility and penitence on this solemn occasion. Aaron’s linen was also to be meticulously clean and pure, reflecting his position as righteous mediator between the people and their holy God.

In this we also see a foreshadowing of a future priest, Jesus Christ, who presented himself in the “dressed–down” manner of a humble carpenter from Nazareth. In what theologians refer to as the kenosis, Jesus emptied himself of his heavenly privileges and became a bondservant for the whole of mankind:

When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.[xliii]

In an astounding, mysterious transaction between the son of God and his heavenly father, Jesus Christ assumed the office of High Priest and offered himself as the sacrifice to be put to death for others. The New Testament book of Hebrews sheds light on this idea:

So now we have a high priest who perfectly fits our needs: completely holy, uncompromised by sin, with authority extending as high as God’s presence in heaven itself. Unlike the other high priests, he doesn’t have to offer sacrifices for his own sins every day before he can get around to us and our sins. He’s done it, once and for all: offered up himself as the sacrifice. The law appoints as high priests men who are never able to get the job done right. But this intervening command of God, which came later, appoints the Son, who is absolutely, eternally perfect.[xliv]

Unlike Aaron, a sinful man, Jesus had no sins of his own to deal with—he was perfect. And his blood, representing the perfection of his life, was so much more precious than that of untold billions of animals. Upon his death on the cross, Jesus (Israel’s true Messiah), went straight up to heaven and into the “Holy Place” to present his own blood as the final payment for all sin for all time. This ended forever the need for animal blood and the associated human effort in the earthly temple. Now that the “substance” was accepted by God in heaven, there was no need for the “shadow” of earthly ceremony. And good riddance—animal blood could never actually remove the stain of sin, but only temporarily cover it up. The unblemished blood of Christ totally cleansed our lives from sin and released us from its eternal consequences.

Jesus “cut to the chase” and went directly to God and settled the matter of mankind’s sin once and for all. While Aaron’s ceremonies had to repeated over and over, our Messiah/Mediator made his final offering once for all, never needing to be repeated.

A central feature of Israel’s Day of Atonement involved two goats—one destined to die and the other allowed to live. Lots were cast to determine which goat would be slaughtered and which one would be driven away into the wilderness, never to be seen again. The two goats foreshadow key aspects of the sacrifice to be made by Israel’s future Messiah.

The goat for slaughter, representing the people’s sin offering, was sacrificed and its blood sprinkled on the mercy seat within the Holy of Holies tabernacle chamber. This symbolized the cleansing of the Holy Place itself, which had been stained by the presence of sinful man over the past year, “With his finger he will sprinkle some of the blood on it seven times to purify and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the Israelites.”

The deeper significance of the first portion of the sacrifice (known as the Lord’s lot) of that day addressed an often–ignored aspect of God’s relationship with man in general. It is a sad fact that God has been systematically dishonored in this world since the first man appeared on the scene. McIntosh wrote:

It is needful to bear in mind how God has been dishonored in this world. His truth has been despised; His authority has been condemned; His majesty has been slighted; His law has been broken; His claims have been disregarded; His name has been blasphemed; His character has been traduced.

He added, referring to the work of Jesus Christ which would come centuries later:

Now, the death of Christ has made provision for all this [Jehovah’s “lot” fell upon the true victim]. It has perfectly glorified God in the very place where all these things have been done; It has perfectly vindicated the majesty, the truth, the holiness, the character of God; It has divinely met all the claims of his throne; it has atoned for sin; It has furnished a divine remedy for all the mischief which sin introduced into the universe; It affords a ground on which the blessed God can act in grace, mercy, and forbearance toward all; It furnishes a warrant for the eternal expulsion and perdition of the prince of this world; It forms the imperishable foundation of God’s moral government.[xlv]

In the days of the ancient Jewish tabernacle, the scene inside the Holy of Holies would have been terrifying—only the High Priest was allowed into this sacred room, preceded by thick billows of smoke from fragrant incense. Just to be sure, the tabernacle attendants would tie a rope around the ankle of the High Priest in case he became incapacitated and needed to be retrieved. This was where the actual presence of God touched earth, and no man but the High Priest could so much as approach the area and survive.

Next in the ceremonial procedures, the goat which would remain alive was brought before the High Priest, who would place his hand on the head of the goat, symbolically transferring the sins and guilt of the nation to the goat. The goat was then driven from the camp and escorted to a distant place, never to return. It could be said that this goat suffered even more than the goat for slaughter, which had a quick and clean death, because the “scapegoat” was doomed to wander aimlessly in the wilderness to be set upon by wild beasts until it finally perished. This touchingly reminds us of one of the most solemn moments in C. S. Lewis’s classic book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, in which the lion, Aslan (a type of Christ), is subjected to terrible cruelty at the hands of the evil Witch and her followers, in exchange for the life of Edmond, one of the four children at the center of the story. Here is how one plot summary put it:

When they find Aslan, he tells them they can stay until he tells them they must leave. Together, Aslan, Susan, and Lucy walk to the Stone Table, where Aslan tells them to leave. Susan and Lucy hide behind some bushes and watch the Witch and a horde of her followers torment, humiliate, and finally kill Aslan. The Witch explains that Aslan sacrificed his life for Edmund.

Susan and Lucy stay with Aslan’s dead body all night. In the morning, they hear a great cracking noise, and are astounded to see the Stone Table broken. Aslan has disappeared. Suddenly Susan and Lucy hear Aslan’s voice from behind him. Aslan has risen from the dead.[xlvi]

The ceremony with the goats provides an unmistakable parallel to one of the greatest tragedies in human history. Centuries after this ceremony was established, Jesus Christ came into the world—the very world he created—and was rejected by almost everyone:

There was the true Light [Jesus] which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.[xlvii]

But, even more poignantly, in the fullness of time, he became the sin–bearer of the world, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah:

The servant [Messiah] grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him.[xlviii]

This winsome, gentle, sinless innocent from another dimension was made our scapegoat as God transferred the shame, guilt, and punishment for mankind’s sin onto his son, making him, from a legal perspective, a sinner. He was not intrinsically a sinner, of course. Neither was the scapegoat in Aaron’s day.

As for his intrinsic holiness:

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens…[xlix]

And, being sinless, he was not part of the problem, so he could be the solution through his vicarious substitutionary death on the cross. This has been sometimes called the Great Exchange:

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.[l]

Christ redeemed us from that self–defeating, cursed life by absorbing it completely into himself. Do you remember the Scripture that says, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”? That is what happened when Jesus was nailed to the cross: He became a curse, and at the same time dissolved the curse. And now, because of that, the air is cleared and we can see that Abraham’s blessing is present and available for non–Jews, too. We are all able to receive God’s life, his Spirit, in and with us by believing—just the way Abraham received it.[li]

What the suffering Jesus would experience is beyond all human imagining:

From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around midafternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”[lii]

Arthur Custance summarized:

Can we have even the remotest conception of what it would mean for One who was morally perfect, pure in spirit in the absolute sense, without the slightest taint of guilt in any form and altogether sinless, to be suddenly held responsible for the appalling record of crime and injustice and brutality and hatred and insane cruelty that marks the frightful record of human history from the murder of Abel to the extermination centers and labor camps of today? What would it mean to be so accounted guilty that the Father Himself turned away from his beloved Son as One who now, as the sin–bearer, was abhorrent in his sight?

In these three hours the Lord Jesus was made a sin–offering; that is to say He became effectively the doer of this frightfulness not only in the sight of man, but in the sight of God and the whole host of heaven. He who was Himself blameless assumed full responsibility and was to blame. He who was pure was made vile. He who was holy was made unholy with the leprosy of our sin. He who was the very expression of love became as hateful as sin itself. He who was without spot was infected with the cancer of our wickedness. He who knew no sin was actually made sinful by identification…

When He (Christ) was made sin and a curse…it was tantamount to an eternal death, or the suffering of the wicked in hell. For though the two kinds of suffering differ as to circumstances of time and place, the persons being different, the one finite and the other infinite, yet as to the essence of these sufferings, they were the same. Eternal death consists in two things: punishment in the form of deprivation, and punishment in the form of actual affliction. The former lies in an eternal separation from God, or a deprivation of his presence forever: and the latter lies in an everlasting affliction in the everlasting fire of God’s wrath.

Now Christ endured what was answerable to both of these…Eternity is not the essence of punishment but it is consequent of the fact that the sufferer cannot all at once bear the whole—being finite as sinful man is finite. And as it cannot be borne all at once it is continued ad infinitum. But Christ, being an infinite Person, was able to bear the whole at once and the infinity of his Person abundantly compensates for the eternity of the punishment.

He descended into hell, into the utter solitude that on the Day of Atonement was symbolized by the sending forth of the scapegoat into an uninhabited desert of evil marked by the absence of all other relationships. It was not for a few hours only that this terrible penalty was imposed upon Him but—in his experience—forever: He could not know in his darkness how long it would take to pay the price. Nor could He have any anticipation of when the price had been paid in full until, at last, He became aware once more of his Father’s presence. He could not anticipate the end, and with no anticipation of the end, his suffering became infinite.

He could not cry out, “Father, forgive me!” He could not cry, “God, have mercy upon me!” On what grounds could mercy be extended to HIM? On no ground, except the completion of his sacrifice, could any mercy be extended to anyone. On what basis could his reprieve be granted—except all others forfeit the forgiveness He had come to guarantee them? For on the fullness of his sacrifice depended all other forgiveness.

He could atone for the sins of others and pray the Father to forgive them (Luke 23:34) but there was no way in which He could save Himself if He was to save us. They were right who mocked Him thus (Matthew 27:42). In Gethsemane He had said to his disciples, “Could ye not watch with Me for one hour?” (Matthew 26:40). Here He could only say, “My God! My God! Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).

Of course, He had known this had to be. But anticipating that a fearful agony is to be borne, even though He knew in prospect that it must come to an end since He had told his disciples He would rise again, such knowledge did not serve to ameliorate it when the intensity of that agony fell upon Him. I cannot believe He had a fear of it as He foresaw what was to happen, but He must have had an awful horror of what it would entail. His prayer in Gethsemane bears this out. And when the blow fell who can possibly know what He endured in that eternity in order that our eternity of punishment might be commuted to total blamelessness because He for an eternity had borne the penalty for us.

So, what are the ways in which the singular sacrifice of Jesus was so superior to the multiplied sacrifices of those millions of animals offered by the Jews over the centuries? Here are a few:

  • The Old Testament sacrifices were only shadows of things to come. Jesus Christ was the substance. Had Jesus not come and offered up his life, those animal sacrifices upon which the believing Jews relied would never had been “ratified” and therefore would have been of no ultimate value. The book of Hebrews explains:

The old plan was only a hint of the good things in the new plan. Since that old “law plan” wasn’t complete in itself, it couldn’t complete those who followed it. No matter how many sacrifices were offered year after year, they never added up to a complete solution. If they had, the worshipers would have gone merrily on their way, no longer dragged down by their sins. But instead of removing awareness of sin, when those animal sacrifices were repeated over and over they actually heightened awareness and guilt. The plain fact is that bull and goat blood can’t get rid of sin. That is what is meant by this prophecy, put in the mouth of Christ:

You don’t want sacrifices and offerings year after year;
you’ve prepared a body for me for a sacrifice.
It’s not fragrance and smoke from the altar
that whet your appetite.
So I said, “I’m here to do it your way, O God,
the way it’s described in your Book.”

When he said, “You don’t want sacrifices and offerings,” he was referring to practices according to the old plan. When he added, “I’m here to do it your way,” he set aside the first in order to enact the new plan—God’s way—by which we are made fit for God by the once–for–all sacrifice of Jesus.[liii]

Animal blood, which lacked inherent intrinsic value, could never actually wipe away sin once and for all. But the blood of the son of God, now that was another story, due to its unlimited inherent value.

To illustrate, in the days of the gold standard, the value of paper currency was defined in terms of gold, for which the currency could be exchanged. The paper currency was backed by actual gold stored in Fort Knox. Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, marked by the shedding of his blood [now forever stored in the heavenly tabernacle], was Israel’s “gold” which backed those animal sacrifices (the paper currency) that had been offered for sin during the centuries before. Someone has said that the Old Testament believers were saved “on credit” until the real thing came along with the death of Jesus Christ.

  • The priesthood of Aaron expired when he died, as did the priesthoods of his successors. On the other hand, the priesthood of Jesus lasts forever. He is priest and mediator for all believers, standing before the throne of God as their heavenly advocate. Forever. The book of Hebrews explains:

The old priesthood of Aaron perpetuated itself automatically, father to son, without explicit confirmation by God. But then God intervened and called this new, permanent priesthood into being with an added promise:

God gave his word;
he won’t take it back:
“You’re the permanent priest.”

This makes Jesus the guarantee of a far better way between us and God—one that really works! A new covenant. Earlier there were a lot of priests, for they died and had to be replaced. But Jesus’ priesthood is permanent. He’s there from now to eternity to save everyone who comes to God through him, always on the job to speak up for them.[liv]

  • The physical location of Aaron’s ministry was limited to a small, hand–built tabernacle which was hauled from place to place, as needed. Christ carries on his ministry in heaven itself, unhindered by time and space:

That first plan contained directions for worship, and a specially designed place of worship. A large outer tent was set up. The lampstand, the table, and “the bread of presence” were placed in it. This was called “the Holy Place.” Then a curtain was stretched, and behind it a smaller, inside tent set up. This was called “the Holy of Holies.” In it were placed the gold incense altar and the gold–covered ark of the covenant containing the gold urn of manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, the covenant tablets, and the angel–wing–shadowed mercy seat.[lv]

But when the Messiah arrived, high priest of the superior things of this new covenant, he bypassed the old tent and its trappings in this created world and went straight into heaven’s “tent”—the true Holy Place—once and for all.[lvi]

  • Aaron’s offerings only lasted for one year, after which they had to be repeated. Furthermore, their effect was simply to provide a temporary reprieve. Christ’s sacrifice was eternal, never having to be repeated, and most importantly, secured complete forgiveness:

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God–setting–things–right that we read about has become Jesus–setting–things–right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

God sacrificed Jesus on the altar of the world to clear that world of sin. Having faith in him sets us in the clear. God decided on this course of action in full view of the public—to set the world in the clear with himself through the sacrifice of Jesus, finally taking care of the sins he had so patiently endured. This is not only clear, but it’s now—this is current history! God sets things right. He also makes it possible for us to live in his rightness.[lvii]

And the best news of all—Christ’s atonement radically changed the relationship between God and man. Before Christ’s advent, all that man (including Aaron) could do was draw near to God and that only once a year. Christ’s coming to earth and dying for our sins made all the difference. And how do we know Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to permanently switch our relationship with God? The giant veil of the temple was torn—from top to bottom—upon his death.

One Bible commentator elaborated:

So, the presence of God remained shielded from man behind a thick curtain during the history of Israel. However, Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross changed that. When He died, the curtain in the Jerusalem temple was torn in half, from the top to the bottom. Only God could have carried out such an incredible feat because the veil was too high for human hands to have reached it, and too thick to have torn it.  Furthermore, it was torn from top down, meaning this act must have come from above.[lviii]

Going back to the Day of Atonement, we read the instruction: “He will take a censer full of burning coals from the Altar before God and two handfuls of finely ground aromatic incense and bring them inside the curtain and put the incense on the fire before God; the smoke of the incense will cover the Atonement–Cover which is over The Testimony so that he doesn’t die.” The smoke from this incense would have filled the holy chamber, partially obscuring the mercy seat from Aaron’s sight. This symbolizes the veil that separated God from his people so that only the High Priest could approach God directly, and then only under the protection of the veil “so that he doesn’t die.” It would not be until centuries later when Jesus, Israel’s Messiah, would give up his life for his people, that we would understand the true significance of the incense:

But Jesus, again crying out loudly, breathed his last. At that moment, the Temple curtain was ripped in two, top to bottom. There was an earthquake, and rocks were split in pieces. What’s more, tombs were opened up, and many bodies of believers asleep in their graves were raised. (After Jesus’ resurrection, they left the tombs, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.) The captain of the guard and those with him, when they saw the earthquake and everything else that was happening, were scared to death. They said, “This has to be the Son of God!”[lix]

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.[lx]

The veil of the temple, a massive floor–to–ceiling partition between the Holy of Holies and the main temple, separated the people from direct access to God. In addition, when the high priest entered the Holy of holies, he did so behind a thick cloud of incense which partially obscured the tabernacle from his direct sight. This symbolized the fact that even the high priest was an intrinsically sinful man and needed protection from the holiness of God while in the sacred chamber.

When Jesus gave up his spirit, that veil was torn from one end to the other, indicating there was no longer a separation between God and his people. Neither was there a need for incense to shield men while in God’s presence. The veil, representing Jesus’ flesh, was torn, finally opening the way for God’s people to directly receive his boundless grace and intimate fellowship “with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

Finally, peace, thank God almighty, peace at last!

Messiah Foretold

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One of the most convincing proofs that the Bible is from another dimension is the presence of hundreds of prophecies sprinkled throughout its pages that have predicted future events. To the letter. At the time of writing of these prophecies, only God could have known in advance what was going to happen. Is this important? God seemed to think so. Isaiah 44 declares:

God, King of Israel,
your Redeemer, God–of–the–Angel–Armies, says:
“I’m first, I’m last, and everything in between.
I’m the only God there is.
Who compares with me?
Speak up. See if you measure up.
From the beginning, who else has always announced what’s coming?
So what is coming next? Anybody want to venture a try?
Don’t be afraid, and don’t worry:
Haven’t I always kept you informed, told you what was going on?
You’re my eyewitnesses:
Have you ever come across a God, a real God, other than me?
There’s no Rock like me that I know of.”[lxi]

Cryptic Old Testament prophecies foretell a coming Messiah/deliverer

The Jews had a foolproof way to weed out imposters. So–called prophets in ancient Israel’s day who “predicted” events that never came to pass were summarily executed. Being a prophet was a high–risk occupation, and only the genuine articles survived. Try holding today’s Wall Street analysts, TV pundits, or weather forecasters to that standard, and watch their ranks dwindle to nothing overnight. In his book, Is the Bible Really a Message from God?, Ralph Muncaster wrote:

Bible prophecies are of all types—information about events to occur, about how and when things will happen, and about specific people. Some prophecies were made about events that were imminent. Others were about events occurring hundreds of years later. “Prophets” who were wrong in the short term were stoned, and their prophecies were not included in scripture.

The bible contains more than 1,000 prophecies: 668 are known to be fulfilled, with none ever proved false. There are three that have not yet been confirmed. Virtually all unfulfilled prophecies relate to the second coming of Christ and the “end times.”[lxii]

And, although these prophecies are fascinating to study, consider the following with me…

Connecting the dots

Unquestionably, one of the most remarkable and controversial subjects in the Bible relates to the identity of Jesus Christ as Israel’s Messiah. Today’s Orthodox Jews largely reject this characterization and hold to the belief that this mystery man has yet to appear and that Jesus was nothing more than one in a long line of Messianic imposters. The very fact that Jesus Christ made the claim to being Messiah was the primary reason he was put to death by the religious leaders of Israel in the first place. Of course, not all Jews held that belief—most of the early followers of Jesus were Jews, including Jesus himself. In fact, eventually, one of the most prominent Jews of all, Saul of Tarsus, later named Paul, became a believer and ended up writing nearly two–thirds of the New Testament.

So what was it that led these early Jewish (and later Gentile) followers to dare to believe that Jesus, of all the other hundreds of candidates, was the one and only Messiah? What would possess an ordinarily sane citizen of Israel to risk his or her life to defend a story that seemed admittedly outlandish and would put them at odds with every religious leader in the land? Besides their personal witness of Christ’s words, miracles, wisdom, uncommon authority, and unvarying holiness, they had their centuries–old scriptures which contained ancient prophecies that painted a picture, stroke by stroke, of what this coming Messiah would look like. When connected end to end, these prophecies painted a remarkably detailed picture of this enigmatic savior/king.

Muncaster commented:

If someone told you he could pick the winning lottery number, and then did, you might be impressed. Odds are maybe one in 10 million, which equals 1 in 107. Does that prove the person has divine knowledge? Maybe and maybe not, though it is very impressive. Now suppose he did it twice in a row. That would be one chance in 100 trillion, or 1 in 1014. It suddenly would seem obvious he had “special” information. From a practical standpoint, scientists have determined that anything beyond one chance in 1050 is beyond reason—essentially impossible or absurd, like someone picking the lottery 7 times in a row—unless there is “special” knowledge involved. Odds far more staggering than this describe prophecies and God’s fingerprints in the Bible.

Muncaster went on to illustrate this with the prophecies regarding Israel’s Messiah, their long–anticipated deliverer, savior, and king:

There are 322 prophecies regarding Messiah in the Old Testament. The following describes the Messiah using only the Old Testament as the source:

The Messiah will descend from Shem,[lxiii] Abraham,[lxiv] Isaac,[lxv] Jacob,[lxvi] Judah,[lxvii] Jesse,[lxviii] and King David.[lxix] He will be born in the city of Bethlehem in the county of Ephrathah[lxx] when a bright star appears.[lxxi] It will be a miraculous virgin birth.[lxxii]

The Messiah will be unique, having preexisted his birth.[lxxiii] He will perform many miracles: calming the sea[lxxiv] and causing the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, and the mute to talk.[lxxv] He will be referred to in many ways including: God with us,[lxxvi] wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father and prince of peace.[lxxvii] One day he will rule over everything—all nations will bow down to him.[lxxviii]

The Messiah, however, will come to save mankind.[lxxix] He will become man’s sin offering and present himself to Jerusalem as both the anointed king[lxxx] and the Passover lamb.[lxxxi] This will occur exactly 173,880 days after the decree of Artexerxes to rebuild both Jerusalem and the temple.[lxxxii] So four days before Passover, the Messiah will present himself to a rejoicing Jerusalem riding on a donkey.[lxxxiii] But then he will suffer greatly.[lxxxiv] He will be rejected by many including his friends. He will be betrayed by a friend[lxxxv] for 30 pieces of silver.[lxxxvi] Later that money will be thrown on the floor of the temple and will eventually go to a potter. At his trial he will not defend himself. He will say nothing[lxxxvii] except as required by law. Israel will reject him.[lxxxviii]

The Messiah will be taken to a mountaintop identified by Abraham as “the Lord will provide.”[lxxxix] There he will be crucified with his hands and feet pierced.[xc] His enemies will encircle him, mocking him, and will cast lots for his clothing. He will call to God asking why he was “forsaken.” He will be given gall and wine.[xci] He will die with thieves.[xcii] But unlike the thieves, none of his bones will be broken.[xciii] His heart will fail…as indicated by blood and water spilling out when he is pieced with a spear.[xciv] He will be buried in a rich man’s grave.[xcv] In three days he will rise from the dead.[xcvi]

[Note: All scripture references for the above section are located at the end of this book in “Notes.”]

What are the odds?

Muncaster concluded:

The estimated odds of just these 48 prophecies being fulfilled in the life of one man have been calculated as one in 10157. This would be equivalent to winning 22 lotteries in a row![xcvii]

And although the above prophecies are endlessly fascinating, none are more critical than predictions about Israel’s Messiah, especially regarding the manner of his death and its ultimate meaning for mankind. Let’s drill down on a few of these. Keep in mind that these are exclusively from the Old Testament—written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus Christ:

He will be subjected to great suffering—for others

God, God…my God!
Why did you dump me
miles from nowhere?
Doubled up with pain, I call to God
all the day long. No answer. Nothing.
I keep at it all night, tossing and turning.

And you! Are you indifferent, above it all,
leaning back on the cushions of Israel’s praise?
We know you were there for our parents:
they cried for your help and you gave it;
they trusted and lived a good life.

And here I am, a nothing—an earthworm,
something to step on, to squash.
Everyone pokes fun at me;
they make faces at me, they shake their heads:
“Let’s see how God handles this one;
since God likes him so much, let him help him!”

And to think you were midwife at my birth,
setting me at my mother’s breasts!
When I left the womb you cradled me;
since the moment of birth you’ve been my God.
Then you moved far away
and trouble moved in next door.
I need a neighbor.

Herds of bulls come at me,
the raging bulls stampede,
Horns lowered, nostrils flaring,
like a herd of buffalo on the move.

I’m a bucket kicked over and spilled,
every joint in my body has been pulled apart.
My heart is a blob
of melted wax in my gut.
I’m dry as a bone,
my tongue black and swollen.
They have laid me out for burial
in the dirt.

Now packs of wild dogs come at me;
thugs gang up on me.
They pin me down hand and foot,
and lock me in a cage—a bag
Of bones in a cage, stared at
by every passerby.
They take my wallet and the shirt off my back,
and then throw dice for my clothes.

You, God—don’t put off my rescue!
Hurry and help me!
Don’t let them cut my throat;
don’t let those mongrels devour me.
If you don’t show up soon,
I’m done for—gored by the bulls,
meat for the lions.[xcviii]

“It was our pains he carried…”

Just watch my servant blossom!
Exalted, tall, head and shoulders above the crowd!
But he didn’t begin that way.
At first everyone was appalled.
He didn’t even look human—
a ruined face, disfigured past recognition.
Nations all over the world will be in awe, taken aback,
kings shocked into silence when they see him.
For what was unheard of they’ll see with their own eyes,
what was unthinkable they’ll have right before them.[xcix]

Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him.

He was beaten, he was tortured,
but he didn’t say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
and like a sheep being sheared,
he took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and he was led off—
and did anyone really know what was happening?
He died without a thought for his own welfare,
beaten bloody for the sins of my people.
They buried him with the wicked,
threw him in a grave with a rich man,
Even though he’d never hurt a soul
or said one word that wasn’t true.

Still, it’s what God had in mind all along,
to crush him with pain.
The plan was that he give himself as an offering for sin
so that he’d see life come from it—life, life, and more life.
And God’s plan will deeply prosper through him.

Out of that terrible travail of soul,
he’ll see that it’s worth it and be glad he did it.
Through what he experienced, my righteous one, my servant,
will make many “righteous ones,”
as he himself carries the burden of their sins.
Therefore I’ll reward him extravagantly—
the best of everything, the highest honors—
Because he looked death in the face and didn’t flinch,
because he embraced the company of the lowest.
He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
he took up the cause of all the black sheep.[c]

Messiah Revealed

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Up to this point we have been reviewing scriptures taken exclusively from the Old Testament. From here on in this chapter, we will be reading selections from the New Testament. There is a direct link between these two great collections of books—that of the red cord, which refers to the continuing theme of sacrifice as the means of approaching God. The Old Testament sacrifices were animals, which foreshadowed a final sacrifice to end all sacrifices—that of Jesus Christ who came settle the sin question once and for all.

There was an interesting time gap of four hundred years between the end of the Old Testament period and the beginning of the New Testament. Here is how one Bible commentator described this period:

The 400 years of silence refers to the time between the Old Testament and New Testaments, during which God did not speak to the Jewish people. The 400 years of silence began with the warning that closed the Old Testament: “Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5–6) and ended with the coming of John the Baptist, the Messiah’s forerunner.

At the time of Malachi’s warning, about 430 B.C., the Jews had returned to Palestine from the Babylonian captivity (as merchants, not shepherds). The Medo–Persian Empire still ruled Palestine, and the temple had been rebuilt. Both the Law and the priesthood of Aaron’s line had been restored, and the Jews had given up their worship of idols. Nevertheless, Malachi’s warning was not without cause. The Jewish people were mistreating their wives, marrying pagans and not tithing, and the priests were neglecting the temple and not teaching the people the ways of God. In short, the Jews were not honoring God.

In 333 B.C., Palestine fell to the Greeks, and in 323 B.C. it fell to the Egyptians. The Jews generally were treated well throughout those reigns, and they adopted the Greek language and many of the Greek customs and manners, and in Egypt the Old Testament was translated into Greek. That translation, the Septuagint, came into widespread use (and is quoted frequently in the New Testament).

Jewish law and the priesthood remained more or less intact until Antiochus the Great of Syria captured Palestine in 204 B.C. He and his successor, Antiochus Epiphanes, persecuted the Jews and sold the priesthood, and in 171 B.C. Epiphanes desecrated the Holy of Holies. This desecration resulted in an uprising by Judas Maccabeus of the priestly line of Aaron, and in 165 B.C. the Jews recaptured Jerusalem and cleansed the temple. However, fighting continued between the Jews and the Syrians until the Romans gained control of Palestine in 63 B.C., at which time Pompey walked into the Holy of Holies, once again shocking and embittering the Jews. In 47 B.C., Caesar installed Antipater, a descendant of Esau, as procurator of Judea, and Antipater subsequently appointed his two sons as kings over Galilee and Judea.

As the New Testament opens, Antipater’s son, Herod the Great, a descendant of Esau, was king, and the priesthood was politically motivated and not of the line of Aaron. Politics also resulted in the development of two major factions, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees favored the liberal attitudes and practices of the Greeks. They held to only the Torah as regards religion but like all aristocrats they did not think God should have any part in governing the nation. The Pharisees were conservative zealots who, with the help of the scribes, developed religious law to the point where the concerns and care of people were essentially meaningless. Additionally, synagogues, new places of worship and social activity, had sprouted up all over the country, and religious and civil matters were governed by the lesser and the greater Sanhedrins, the greater Sanhedrin being comprised of a chief priest and seventy other members that handed out justice, sometimes by 39 lashes administered with full force.

Between the time of Malachi and the coming of the Messiah, several prophecies were fulfilled, including the 2,300 days of desecration between 171 and 165 B.C. (Daniel 8:14), but neither the fulfilled prophecies nor the 400 years the nation was given to study Scripture, to seek God (Psalm 43–44) and to prepare for the coming Messiah, was put to good use. In fact, those years blinded and deafened the nation to the point where most of the Jews could not even consider the concept of a humble Messiah (Zechariah 9:9; Isaiah 6:10; John 12:40).[ci]

And as the New Testament opens…

One sacrifice for the whole world

The very next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and yelled out, “Here he is, God’s Passover Lamb! He forgives the sins of the world! This is the man I’ve been talking about, ‘the One who comes after me but is really ahead of me.’ I knew nothing about who he was—only this: that my task has been to get Israel ready to recognize him as the God–Revealer. That is why I came here baptizing with water, giving you a good bath and scrubbing sins from your life so you can get a fresh start with God.”

John clinched his witness with this: “I watched the Spirit, like a dove flying down out of the sky, making himself at home in him. I repeat, I know nothing about him except this: The One who authorized me to baptize with water told me, ‘The One on whom you see the Spirit come down and stay, this One will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ That’s exactly what I saw happen, and I’m telling you, there’s no question about it: This is the Son of God.”[cii]

The day the angels wept

It was on a Friday morning.

Humans have a penchant for reinterpreting actual historical events.  We contrive idealized paintings, sculptures and statues and house them in ornate church buildings attended by brightly–dressed priests, billowing incense and chanting throngs.  This revisionist tendency is particularly acute when it comes to depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  He is often presented as rather well groomed, handsome and hardly in distress at all.  His crucifix is smooth and well finished and Jesus appears upon it in peaceful slumber, with only a few tastefully placed blood drops to mar the tranquil scene.

The real crucifixion process as perfected by the Romans, was designed not just to kill, but to drag out the unimaginable suffering in a way that gave the condemned criminal and his spectators ample time to meditate on the downside of crimes against Caesar’s regime.  It could be two or three days before the suffering ended.  It wasn’t pretty—speaking prophetically about Israel’s coming Messiah, Isaiah predicted what was going to really happen to him, devoid of artist’s license:

“Just watch my servant blossom!
Exalted, tall, head and shoulders above the crowd!
But he didn’t begin that way.
At first everyone was appalled.
He didn’t even look human—
a ruined face, disfigured past recognition.[ciii]

He was beaten, he was tortured,
but he didn’t say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
and like a sheep being sheared,
he took it all in silence.[civ]

In the book, “Cracking the God Code,” Michael Saward writes:

No wonder the sight was obscene. No wonder the Romans themselves shrank from such enormity and only inflicted it upon slaves and subject peoples. However guilty, no Roman citizen must meet such a fate. So ran the law.

For Romans, the sword or the axe. A quick, clean death. But for rebellious tribesmen and for disobedient slaves––well, they were not real men anyway, little better than wild animals. So for them a harsh lesson, a good flogging (some died at that stage) and then nail them up by the side of the road outside of town.

But even crucifixion didn’t seem to stop those Jews. Quintilius Varus had put down a revolt in Jerusalem back in 4 B.C. It never stood a chance but that didn’t move Varus’s heart one bit. “Nail them up,” he ordered, and his legionnaires crucified the best part of two thousand young Jews along the roadsides. They chopped down acres of woodland to do it, but they did it alright. The Romans always were an efficient lot. Seventy years later Titus repeated the lesson and ran out of trees for crosses.

All those thousands of crucifixions, agonized men, weeping women and yet just one has come down through history: Did He suffer more? Was the pain worse? Haven’t others been tortured more cruelly and far longer? So why pick on His crucifixion and blow the story up as if He were the only one to know what it felt like…

This crucifixion was different. Different, not in the sense that there was more pain or less pain, but, nevertheless different in that something extra, and at a totally new level, was taking place.

The Gospel accounts—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—set aside a huge proportion of their time and space to the description of the last of hours of the life of Jesus. Most biographies are all about a man’s life, and only a page or so about his death. The Gospels say a lot about Christ’s life but nearly a third of their space is about His death.

Even stranger, they hardly do more than mention the actual fact of His bodily suffering. No stress whatever on the torture—much, much less than in this chapter. Now why is that? There is little doubt that He did suffer in the way just described, yet the Gospels say almost nothing about it. So obviously the real meaning of the Crucifixion isn’t just a matter of physical pain. What’s the secret?[cv]

The death of Jesus

From noon to three, the whole earth was dark. Around midafternoon Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Some bystanders who heard him said, “He’s calling for Elijah.” One of them ran and got a sponge soaked in sour wine and lifted it on a stick so he could drink. The others joked, “Don’t be in such a hurry. Let’s see if Elijah comes and saves him.”

But Jesus, again crying out loudly, breathed his last.

At that moment, the Temple curtain was ripped in two, top to bottom. There was an earthquake, and rocks were split in pieces. What’s more, tombs were opened up, and many bodies of believers asleep in their graves were raised. (After Jesus’ resurrection, they left the tombs, entered the holy city, and appeared to many.)

The captain of the guard and those with him, when they saw the earthquake and everything else that was happening, were scared to death. They said, “This has to be the Son of God!”[cvi]

The vital connection between the Old Testament and the New Testament

Now we proceed to the New Testament Epistles, which explain theologically what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross, particularly as it relates to the Old Testament sacrificial system. Note how these Epistles bring the Old Testament to life, tying together the life and work of Jesus Christ with the hundreds of Old Testament predictions about Israel’s Messiah.

Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries. Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son. By his Son, God created the world in the beginning, and it will all belong to the Son at the end. This Son perfectly mirrors God, and is stamped with God’s nature. He holds everything together by what he says—powerful words!

After he finished the sacrifice for sins, the Son took his honored place high in the heavens right alongside God, far higher than any angel in rank and rule. Did God ever say to an angel, “You’re my Son; today I celebrate you” or “I’m his Father, he’s my Son”? When he presents his honored Son to the world, he says, “All angels must worship him.”[cvii]

The captain of our salvation

When God put them in charge of everything, nothing was excluded. But we don’t see it yet, don’t see everything under human jurisdiction. What we do see is Jesus, made “not quite as high as angels,” and then, through the experience of death, crowned so much higher than any angel, with a glory “bright with Eden’s dawn light.” In that death, by God’s grace, he fully experienced death in every person’s place.[cviii]

The altar from which God gives us the gift of himself is not for exploitation by insiders who grab and loot. In the old system, the animals are killed and the bodies disposed of outside the camp. The blood is then brought inside to the altar as a sacrifice for sin. It’s the same with Jesus. He was crucified outside the city gates—that is where he poured out the sacrificial blood that was brought to God’s altar to cleanse his people.

So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is—not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus. This “insider world” is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come. Let’s take our place outside with Jesus, no longer pouring out the sacrificial blood of animals but pouring out sacrificial praises from our lips to God in Jesus’ name.[cix]

Pointing to the realities of heaven

But when the Messiah arrived, high priest of the superior things of this new covenant, he bypassed the old tent and its trappings in this created world and went straight into heaven’s “tent”—the true Holy Place—once and for all. He also bypassed the sacrifices consisting of goat and calf blood, instead using his own blood as the price to set us free once and for all. If that animal blood and the other rituals of purification were effective in cleaning up certain matters of our religion and behavior, think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out. Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead–end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God.

Like a will that takes effect when someone dies, the new covenant was put into action at Jesus’ death. His death marked the transition from the old plan to the new one, canceling the old obligations and accompanying sins, and summoning the heirs to receive the eternal inheritance that was promised them. He brought together God and his people in this new way.

Everyone has to die once, then face the consequences. Christ’s death was also a one–time event, but it was a sacrifice that took care of sins forever. And so, when he next appears, the outcome for those eager to greet him is, precisely, salvation.[cx]

Jesus Christ, God’s final offer

The old plan was only a hint of the good things in the new plan. Since that old “law plan” wasn’t complete in itself, it couldn’t complete those who followed it. No matter how many sacrifices were offered year after year, they never added up to a complete solution. If they had, the worshipers would have gone merrily on their way, no longer dragged down by their sins. But instead of removing awareness of sin, when those animal sacrifices were repeated over and over they actually heightened awareness and guilt. The plain fact is that bull and goat blood can’t get rid of sin. That is what is meant by this prophecy, put in the mouth of Christ:

You don’t want sacrifices and offerings year after year;
you’ve prepared a body for me for a sacrifice.
It’s not fragrance and smoke from the altar
that whet your appetite.
So I said, “I’m here to do it your way, O God,
the way it’s described in your Book.”

When he said, “You don’t want sacrifices and offerings,” he was referring to practices according to the old plan. When he added, “I’m here to do it your way,” he set aside the first in order to enact the new plan—God’s way—by which we are made fit for God by the once–for–all sacrifice of Jesus.

Every priest goes to work at the altar each day, offers the same old sacrifices year in, year out, and never makes a dent in the sin problem. As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! Then he sat down right beside God and waited for his enemies to cave in. It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process. The Holy Spirit confirms this:

This new plan I’m making with Israel
isn’t going to be written on paper,
isn’t going to be chiseled in stone;
This time “I’m writing out the plan in them,
carving it on the lining of their hearts.”

He concludes,

I’ll forever wipe the slate clean of their sins.

Once sins are taken care of for good, there’s no longer any need to offer sacrifices for them.[cxi]

The divine solution

Going back to the start of this chapter, in our section entitled, “The Divine Conundrum,” the solution to God’s “dilemma” was no less dramatic and radical as the problem itself. When we left off, heaven stood breathless as Adam and Eve placed God in a seemingly impossible position. This was no oops or minor slip–up on the part of man, but a spit–in–your–eye affront to the God of the universe—all played out in public. Would God react as he did when Lucifer rebelled, and summarily banish them from his garden, his kingdom, and ultimately his heavenly life? Was the universe to be spoken out of existence, reversing his act of creation, and dismissing all creatures in the process? But then, as we said, “The omnipotent God who flung the universe into being with a word would have to admit defeat at the hands of mere mortals in full view of the collective intelligences of the universe.” Not.

scales2The cross of Christ was central to God’s ultimate solution to this cosmic predicament. Although God would never alter the stringent demands of his own righteousness, he was, as the omnipotent master of the universe, able to perfectly satisfy the demands of that righteousness himself. In fact, since every human was automatically sin–doomed by Adam and Eve’s rebellious actions, no one else but God could do anything about it. And so, he took it upon himself to step in to the affairs of man at great personal cost. Think of the proverbial good Samaritan who steps between two men to break up a fight, only to get pummeled himself. Similarly, God steps into the affairs of man—but not without paying a price. He revealed an ingenious way to fully settle all claims of divine justice against the sinner, while providing a full and free pardon for the recipient.

Picture this: there you stand in front of the cosmic court of law, having been charged, tried, and convicted of crimes against heaven and against your fellow–man. The judge somberly places a black handkerchief on his head and pronounces that, for these crimes, you are to be taken to a place of execution and put to death. You’re stunned and reel around to beg someone in the court for mercy, anyone, please help! But everyone is powerless to lift so much as a finger. As the reality of your predicament settles in, the bailiffs move forward to take you away.

But then, something unheard–of occurs. The judge stands up, takes off his robe, and walks around to the front of his own desk and stands next to you. He casts a loving eye in your direction and addresses the court. “Your Honor,” (now speaking to his freshly vacated chair), “I would like to substitute myself for this man [you] and I want to be executed in his place.” The courtroom buzzes in shock and amazement. There is nothing anyone can do to stop the judge, now acting as your savior, from receiving in his own person the penalty that he himself imposed as the righteous judge. He signs the necessary papers, making himself the legally guilty party, as you are fully pardoned and free to go. The process is perfectly legal, just, and final. Instead of reaching for you, the bailiffs now seize the judge and take him to the gallows. He dies. You live.

That’s what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others’ sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God.[cxii]

With his righteousness fully satisfied through the substitutionary death of Christ, God is free to lavish his grace on the worst of sinners, and no one can raise an objection. In Jesus’s day, just as in ours, this notion of grace being extended to the undeserving greatly offends the proud heart of self–righteous man. Our world runs on a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” economy. God’s economy skips over such worldly principles and extends a friendly hand to anyone willing to take their place as a common sinner.

However strict or demanding God’s righteousness might be, God himself (the judge) has provided—to the uttermost. And all of this was accomplished through Christ:

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them…[cxiii]

The entire solution was accomplished within the trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Man had nothing to do with it, since he was part of the problem. God made the problem his own, anticipating it before man was ever created and providing the solution in advance. Remember, God went to great ends to buy you back from “the slave market of sin.” It cost him the blood of his son Jesus. His long–predicted unblemished lamb [Jesus] was slain to fulfill God’s redemption of mankind—a plan that was in place before he created the world—before he created the first man, before sin wreaked its havoc. And immediately after Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice, God signified his acceptance of that sacrifice by raising Him from the dead. This provided the incontrovertible proof that all who trust in him will share in his resurrection and spend eternity in glory together with their savior.

This plan of redemption by Christ’s cross was no afterthought, or Plan B. God was not caught by surprise by Adam’s sin, nor did he need to cook up a quick solution. God knew what he was doing from the start, before anything was created. He had big plans for mankind—bigger even than the angels—to conform mankind into the very image of his son. And to do that, he graciously met the demands of his own justice up front. Now that’s good news!

There are some who would say, “Gee, it’s not fair that we should be harnessed with the effects of Adam’s sin.” At some level, that’s understandable because you weren’t there at the time. But neither were you there when Jesus died for the collective sins of Adam, you, and me—that happened two thousand years ago. But be aware, God does hold us responsible for accepting and believing the facts as revealed in scripture:

  • It wasn’t your fault that Adam and Eve sinned.
  • It also wasn’t your fault that Jesus Christ died for those sins.
  • It is your fault if you refuse to believe and act upon those facts.

It boils down to this: the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ has made it possible for God to extend his grace to any sinner. Because Christ died in his place, the sinner is now forever out of reach of his own execution. God regards him as already dead, buried, and raised in Christ:

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore, we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.[cxiv]

There is no double jeopardy! For the believer, condemnation is forever past. God guarantees it. There is nothing—morally or legally—that stands between man and God, and he waits patiently for you and me to get the message so he can lavish his love without limitation on his beloved prodigals.

Back from the dead…really

There is a single distinguishing feature that sets Christianity apart from all the world’s religions. The Christian faith stands or falls upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If he had not come back from the dead, Christianity would have long since been discarded on the trash heap of discredited religious fabrications. Over the centuries, there have been many skeptics who have dismissed the whole story as an elaborate hoax perpetrated by fools.

One prominent early skeptic, at the time when Christianity was just getting off the ground, was Saul of Tarsus, later known as the Apostle Paul. Now this was no ordinary convert to Christianity—he was a prominent Jewish religious leader and Christian bounty hunter. Paul’s conversion experience is discussed in both the Pauline epistles (especially the letters to the Galatians and to the Corinthians) and in the Acts of the Apostles. Paul was not a follower of Jesus and did not know him before his crucifixion. Paul’s conversion occurred after Jesus’s crucifixion. The accounts of Paul’s conversion experience describe it as “miraculous, supernatural, or otherwise revelatory in nature.” Before his conversion, Paul, was a “zealous” Pharisee who “intensely persecuted” the followers of Jesus. In his Epistle to the Galatians, Paul writes:

I’m sure that you’ve heard the story of my earlier life when I lived in the Jewish way. In those days I went all out in persecuting God’s church. I was systematically destroying it. I was so enthusiastic about the traditions of my ancestors that I advanced head and shoulders above my peers in my career. Even then God had designs on me. Why, when I was still in my mother’s womb he chose and called me out of sheer generosity! Now he has intervened and revealed his Son to me so that I might joyfully tell non–Jews about him.[cxv]

In fact, the occasion for Paul’s conversion was a dramatic and no doubt frightening personal appearance of the risen Christ when Paul was on his way to Damascus to round up more Christians. He reports that his encounter came after many other such appearances to others:

The first thing I did was place before you what was placed so emphatically before me: that the Messiah died for our sins, exactly as Scripture tells it; that he was buried; that he was raised from death on the third day, again exactly as Scripture says; that he presented himself alive to Peter, then to his closest followers, and later to more than five hundred of his followers all at the same time, most of them still around (although a few have since died); that he then spent time with James and the rest of those he commissioned to represent him; and that he finally presented himself alive to me. It was fitting that I bring up the rear. I don’t deserve to be included in that inner circle, as you well know, having spent all those early years trying my best to stamp God’s church right out of existence.[cxvi]

Paul emphasized that his Gospel message had divine origins and was based on direct experience from the lips of the risen Christ:

Know this—I am most emphatic here, friends—this great Message I delivered to you is not mere human optimism. I didn’t receive it through the traditions, and I wasn’t taught it in some school. I got it straight from God, received the Message directly from Jesus Christ.

Saul, renamed Paul, was later to write about the crucial importance of Christ’s resurrection to the whole Christian message, which was taking the world by storm:

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first–fruits of those who have fallen asleep.[cxvii]

The resurrection was no accident, nor was Christ’s death on the cross. These events were central to God’s plan for the redemption of mankind. Prior to his execution, Jesus Christ made several remarkable predictions about his death, which he claimed would be followed by his immediate return:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”[cxviii]

It’s not hard to empathize with Peter’s visceral reaction to such a dire prediction, especially coming from someone he understood to be Israel’s soon–to–be–crowned Messiah. But there Jesus was, completely aware of what was coming, yet not seeing his death as an end but, mysteriously, as a new beginning.

What followed soon afterward even astounded Jesus’s followers, forewarned as they were, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke:

While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”[cxix]

Naturally, they were frightened and almost comically blind to what their own eyes were seeing. But there he stood, accompanied by hundreds of fellow eyewitnesses, back from the dead and giving no indication that he was a ghost or apparition or any such thing.

Why is this so important? Paul the Apostle emphasized the fact that God will hold us all responsible for what we believe regarding the resurrection of his son Jesus Christ. Here is how the scripture puts it:

The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom–made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide–and–seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: “We’re the God–created.” Well, if we are the God–created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?

God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better—but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and he’s calling for a radical life–change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead.[cxx]

History or cruel hoax?

The historical evidence and eyewitness testimonies supporting the resurrection narrative are overwhelming.  We have included an extended excerpt from Josh McDowell, author of Evidence that Demands a Verdict and one of the most popular speakers among university students. This can be found in section 2 of the Appendix at the back of this book.

About the resurrection, William Lane Craig, research professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University, wrote:

In summary, there are four facts agreed upon by the majority of scholars who have written on these subjects which any adequate historical hypothesis must account for: Jesus’ entombment by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb, his post–mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection.

Now the question is: what is the best explanation of these four facts? Most scholars probably remain agnostic about this question. But the Christian can maintain that the hypothesis that best explains these facts is “God raised Jesus from the dead.”

In his book Justifying Historical Descriptions, historian C. B. McCullagh lists six tests which historians use in determining what is the best explanation for given historical facts. The hypothesis “God raised Jesus from the dead” passes all these tests:

  1. It has great explanatory scope: it explains why the tomb was found empty, why the disciples saw post–mortem appearances of Jesus, and why the Christian faith came into being.
  2. It has great explanatory power: it explains why the body of Jesus was gone, why people repeatedly saw Jesus alive despite his earlier public execution, and so forth.
  3. It is plausible: given the historical context of Jesus’ own unparalleled life and claims, the resurrection serves as divine confirmation of those radical claims.
  4. It is not ad hocorcontrived: it requires only one additional hypothesis: that God exists. And even that needn’t be an additional hypothesis if one already believes that God exists.
  5. It isin accord with accepted beliefs. The hypothesis: “God raised Jesus from the dead” doesn’t in any way conflict with the accepted belief that people don’t rise naturally from the dead. The Christian accepts thatbelief as wholeheartedly as he accepts the hypothesis that God raised Jesus from the dead.
  6. It far outstrips any of its rival hypotheses in meeting conditions.Down through history various alternative explanations of the facts have been offered, for example, the conspiracy hypothesis, the apparent death hypothesis, the hallucination hypothesis, and so forth. Such hypotheses have been almost universally rejected by contemporary scholarship. None of these naturalistic hypotheses succeeds in meeting the conditions as well as the resurrection hypothesis.[cxxi]

Believe what you will about the resurrection, but understand that there were thousands of early followers going to gruesome deaths attesting to the fact that they had seen the risen Christ with their own eyes. Ask yourself, would you go to a martyr’s death for something you knew to be a hoax? Remember, these were ordinary people with a lot to lose and nothing to gain by supporting a falsehood, especially at a time and in a place where death sentences were handed out like parking tickets.

So, what?

Remember my personal cancer story earlier in the book?  Suppose, after my doctor showed me the results of his tests confirming that I had cancer, I just got up and said, “well, have a nice day,” and walked away as though nothing had happened?  Pretty silly.  He had just told me that I had a deadly disease and that unless immediate action was taken, it would kill me—regardless of how I felt about the news, or whatever silly evasive tactics I might adopt to avoid the inevitable. Facts are facts. The only sensible thing to do was to “surrender” myself into the hands of my caregivers and submit to treatment without delay.  I am writing these very words to you because I did just that.

Yet similarly, there are millions of people who have been informed by scripture that they have a dread disease of the soul that, absent radical treatment, will kill them spiritually.  Many such people view the whole matter as rather theoretical, not applying the diagnosis to them personally, and putting off doing anything about it indefinitely. Pretty silly.  More to the point, you have been informed about your inherited spiritual condition from the Divine Physician Himself.  He has also made you aware that there is a divinely–appointed cure for your disease, and IF you place yourself in the hands of the Divine Caregiver, he will lead you to a level of spiritual health beyond your wildest imagination.  The cure is available, but it is not automatic, any more than my cancer treatments were.

You need to DO something here, which brings us to our next two chapters: “Where This Leaves Us,” which provides God’s detailed diagnosis of mankind’s [including you] desperate spiritual condition; This is followed by “Securing Your Eternal Destiny,” which describes how you can come into the good of what Jesus Christ has done to deliver you from your otherwise–fatal predicament.  Please don’t get up, wish me a “nice day,” and leave at this critical juncture.  Read on.

To quote FoxNew’s Bill O’Reilly, “Caution! You are about to enter [God’s] no-spin zone.”

_______________

Notes: Chapter 8. The Last Adam Did So Much Better

[i]  Genesis 3:23–24 The Message (MSG)

[ii] Psalm 90:9–11 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

[iii] Romans 3:23 NASB

[iv] Romans 6:22–23 NASB

[v] Hebrews 4:14–16 MSG

[vi] Ezekiel 36:22–23 MSG

[vii] Psalm 139:7–12 MSG

[viii] Psalm 50:5 NASB

[ix] Hebrews 9:22 NASB

[x] Genesis 3:6 MSG

[xi] Revelation 22:1–5 MSG

[xii] 1 Peter 1:17–21 MSG

[xiii] Leviticus 17:11 NASB

[xiv] “The ‘darker link’ between ancient human sacrifice and our modern world.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.

[xv] Genesis 3:21 MSG

[xvi] Genesis 4:1–12 MSG

[xvii] Genesis 5:3–5 MSG

[xviii] Hebrews 4:9–11 NASB

[xix] Hebrews 9:11–14 NASB

[xx] 1 Corinthians 15:1–3 MSG

[xxi] Genesis 8:18–21 MSG

[xxii] Genesis 6:11–13 MSG

[xxiii] Colossians 1:18–20 MSG

[xxiv] Genesis 22:1–14 MSG

[xxv] Genesis 22:15–18 MSG

[xxvi] Exodus 12:1–13 MSG

[xxvii] 1 Corinthians 5:8 MSG

[xxviii] 1 Peter 1:18 MSG

[xxix] Matthew 16:18 MSG

[xxx] Revelation 1:8 MSG

[xxxi] Revelation 1:17 MSG

[xxxii] John 14:6–7 MSG

[xxxiii] Revelation 20:15 MSG

[xxxiv] Hebrews 9:11–15 MSG

[xxxv] 1 Peter 1:19–21 MSG

[xxxvi] Revelation 13:8 New International Version (NIV)

[xxxvii] Romans 6:9 MSG

[xxxviii] Hebrews 2:14–15 MSG

[xxxix] Romans 8:3–6 MSG

[xl] Galatians 4:4–7 MSG

[xli] Leviticus 16:29–31 MSG

[xlii] Leviticus 16:1–22 MSG

[xliii] Philippians 2:6–8 MSG

[xliv] Hebrews 7:26–28 MSG

[xlv] Mackintosh, Charles Henry, and Wilbur M. Smith. Genesis to Deuteronomy. Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1980. Print.

[xlvi] http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/lion/summary.html

[xlvii] John 1:10–11 NASB

[xlviii] Isaiah 53:2–6 MSG

[xlix] Hebrews 7:26 NASB

[l] 2 Corinthians 5:21 NASB

[li] Galatians 3:13–14 MSG

[lii] Matthew 27:45–46 MSG

[liii] Hebrews 10:1–10 MSG

[liv] Hebrews 7:20–25 MSG

[lv] Hebrews 9:1–5 MSG

[lvi] Hebrews 9:11–15 MSG

[lvii] Romans 3:21–26 MSG

[lviii] http://the–tabernacle–place.com/articles/what_is_the_tabernacle/tabernacle_holy_of_holies

[lix] Matthew 27:50–54 MSG

[lx] Hebrews 10:19–22 NASB

[lxi] Isaiah 44:6–8 MSG

[lxii] Muncaster, Ralph O. Is the Bible Really a Message from God? Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2000. Print.

[lxiii] Genesis 9, 10

[lxiv] Genesis 22:18

[lxv] Genesis 26:2–4

[lxvi] Genesis 28:14

[lxvii] Genesis 49:10

[lxviii] Isaiah 11:1–5

[lxix] Samuel 7:11–16

[lxx] Micah 5:2

[lxxi] Numbers 24:17

[lxxii] Isaiah 7:14

[lxxiii] Micah 5:2

[lxxiv] Psalm 107:29

[lxxv] Isaiah 35:4–6

[lxxvi] Isaiah 7:14

[lxxvii] Isaiah 9:6

[lxxviii] Isaiah 45:23, Psalm 22

[lxxix] Isaiah 53

[lxxx] Zechariah 9:9

[lxxxi] Isaiah 53

[lxxxii] Daniel 9:20–27

[lxxxiii] Zechariah 9:9

[lxxxiv] Isaiah 53

[lxxxv] Psalm 41:9

[lxxxvi] Zechariah 11:12, 13

[lxxxvii] Isaiah 53

[lxxxviii] Isaiah 8:14

[lxxxix] Genesis 22

[xc] Psalm 22

[xci] Psalm 69:20–22

[xcii] Isaiah 53

[xciii] Psalm 22

[xciv] Zechariah 12:10

[xcv] Isaiah 53

[xcvi] Isaiah 53, Psalm 22

[xcvii] Ibid.

[xcviii] Psalm 22:1–21 MSG

[xcix] Isaiah 52:13–15 MSG

[c] Isaiah 53:1–12 MSG

[ci] By permission: “What were the 400 years of silence?” GotQuestions.org. http://www.gotquestions.org/400–years–of–silence.html.

[cii] John 1:29–34 MSG

[ciii] Isaiah 52:13–14 (MSG)

[civ] Isaiah 53:7 The Message (MSG)

[cv] Saward, Michael. Cracking the God Code. Glendale, CA: Regal, 1974. Print.

[cvi] Matthew 27:45–54 MSG

[cvii] Hebrews 1:1–6 MSG

[cviii] Hebrews 2: 8–9 MSG

[cix] Hebrews 13:11–15 MSG

[cx] Hebrews 9:11–17; 27–28 MSG

[cxi] Hebrews 10:1–18 MSG

[cxii] 1 Peter 3:18 MSG

[cxiii] 2 Corinthians 5:19 NASB

[cxiv] Romans 6:3–8 NASB

[cxv] Galatians 1:13–16 MSG

[cxvi] 1 Corinthians 15:3–9 MSG

[cxvii] 1 Corinthians 15:12–20 NIV

[cxviii] Matthew 16:20–22 NIV

[cxix] Luke 24:36–45 NIV

[cxx] Acts 17:24–31 MSG

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