October Essays

October Overview: Expectation and Reward

This month we are going to be reading the book of Jeremiah and the gospel of John. Both of them point clearly toward Christ – Jeremiah is pointing toward Him in the future, and John is pointing to Him as a present reality.

Jeremiah writes at the very lowest point in Israelite history – the time when the 10 tribes of Israel have been destroyed by Assyria, and Judah is about to fall to Babylon. Jeremiah says strong words about God’s judgement on their corruption, and he suffers for it through much persecution because of it. Jesus often quotes Jeremiah, and there are clear parallels between Jeremiah’s prophecies of the destruction of Jerusalem, and Jesus’ prophecies that Jerusalem will be destroyed a second time. But Jeremiah often speaks about an incredible vision of hope for the future, when God will have mercy on them and give his people hearts that know him, when He will make a new covenant with them.

John, of course, speaks about the present reality of Christ. His concern is not so much about what Jesus taught about how we should live, as the other gospels teach. He is concerned that we understand who Jesus is. He uses many images from the Old Testament to show who Jesus is. Here we read that Jesus is the bread of life that came down from heaven (manna), the good Shepherd (Ps. 23, Ezek. 34), the true vine (Is 11) and many other images of God’s salvation for His people.



Week 41: Jer. 5 - 18, John 3 - 7, Psalm 114 - 116

Bread From Heaven

In John 6 this week we will be reading the story of the feeding of the five thousand, which has an interesting conclusion:

Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, "This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world." So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. (John 6:11-15)

Why did the people conclude that Jesus was "the prophet" from this miracle, and why did they want to make Him king? In order to understand the story, we need to understand their messianic expectations. We have discussed before the fact that the word "messiah" means "anointed", and most often is used in terms of a coming king. Prophets and priests were anointed too, and prophecies also describe the messiah in terms of being a great prophet and priest as well. 

Their thinking that Jesus is "the Prophet who is to come into the world" is most likely coming from Deuteronomy 18. In this passage, Moses says to the people:

The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him... The LORD said to me: ... I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. (Deut 18:15, 18-19)

The Jewish people regarded Moses as the greatest prophet of all time, who was unsurpassed by anyone else in their history. God had said that with all other prophets He spoke to them in dreams and visions, but with Moses, God spoke face to face (Numbers 12:6-8). Moses had also done great miracles to free them from Egypt and led them out of bondage. He had mediated their covenant, had given them their scriptures, and they considered him their greatest leader of all time. To say that a prophet would come even greater than Moses was saying a powerful thing indeed! He would speak for God in an unparalleled way, and free them from their oppressors.
 
So, when the people saw that Jesus had multiplied the loaves and fishes, it seemed to them as if He was duplicating the miracle of the miraculous provision of food in the desert. He was, in essence, giving them manna from heaven. They are imagining that Jesus would, like Moses, lead them into an era of freedom from their enemies and miraculous provision of their needs. They are obviously wanting Jesus to act as a "prophet like Moses" when they ask him to repeat the miracle:

So they said to Him, "What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform? "Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread out of heaven to eat,'" Jesus then said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. "For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world." Then they said to Him, "Lord, always give us this bread." (John 6:31-34)

But Jesus' final response to them is that they are looking for the wrong kind of "bread from heaven". They are looking for a Messiah who will miraculously give them food to eat as they imagined Moses did. But, Jesus points out that Moses didn't supply them bread from heaven, it actually came from God. When God gave them bread before, it sustained their lives for 40 years. But now God was giving them a bread from heaven that could give them eternal life - Himself as their sacrifice for sin. That is why Jesus says,

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh. (John 6:47 - 51)

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©2002 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All of the articles in this series are copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.

The Read Through the Bible Commentaries were sent out by email during 2002 and are available in an archive on this site. If you would like to receive the monthly En-Gedi commentary by email, use this form to sign up.



Week 42: Jer. 19 - 33, John 8-12, Psalm 117-119:1-24


The Great Shepherd

In our reading in John 10 this week, we will be reading Jesus' words about being the Good Shepherd. Many of us immediately think of Psalm 23, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want..." But there are actually many messianic passages about "the Shepherd" in the Old Testament, and we can learn much about Jesus' mission and message by what these passages say about Him. Let's look at a few:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” ... He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace. (Micah 5:2, 4-5)

We can see many truths about Jesus as our shepherd even in this passage. It says that He will be born in Bethlehem, like His ancestor David who was a shepherd. His origins are from many ages ago, suggesting that He was co-eternal with His Father. And, it says that He would have a kingdom that would expand to the ends of the world. And that He Himself would be the source of the peace of His people. What powerful words!

Another passage about the shepherd describes His suffering too. Jesus quotes Zechariah 13 which says,

“Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man, my Associate (one who is close to me),” declares the LORD of hosts. “ Strike the shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; and I will turn my hand against the little ones. (Zech. 13:7)

This passage suggests that the messiah would have an especially close relationship with God, but yet God would allow Him to be attacked and harmed by others. Jesus quotes this passage to tell His disciples that He expects that He will suffer, and that they as His "sheep" would be scattered - they would abandon him at His death. (Matt 26:31, Mark 14:27).

Yet another passage where the shepherd is mentioned is in Isaiah 40. There we hear about a person who would come before him who would be a voice crying out, '"In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord'". We recognize this as the passage that is a reference to John the Baptist (Jn 1:23). But the rest of the passage talks about the shepherd who is coming after him:

A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. ...You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, His reward is with him, and His recompense accompanies Him. He tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; He gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:3, 9-11)

Here, the amazing thing is that the shepherd who comes after the one who calls out is actually the Lord God Himself! So if this passage is about John the Baptist and Jesus, it is a clear statement that the Messiah that John was proclaiming would be God incarnate. We were saying a few weeks ago that many messianic prophecies describe the coming of a great king, but do not explicitly say that He would be divine. But this one seems to say that the LORD himself will come as the shepherd.

One of the most important passages about the Good Shepherd is in Ezekiel 34. It also has some very powerful things to say about the Shepherd: 

For thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day." “I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest,” declares the Lord GOD. “I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment. “As for you, My flock, thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Behold, I will judge between one sheep and another, between the rams and the male goats. ...“ (Ezek. 34:11-12,15 -17)

This passage contains several rich things that are in the background of Jesus' statements about Himself. We can hear the background of Jesus' parable about the shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to look for the one lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7). We also hear Jesus words about how when He comes again, He will judge between the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31 - 34). We even find a reference to this passage in His words to Zacchaeus: "...the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." (Luke 19:9-10).

What is most interesting is that the Ezekiel passage clearly says that it would be God Himself who would come to seek out His lost sheep, and Jesus repeatedly says that He is the fulfillment of these words. Through this, His listeners would have heard his very bold claim that not only is He the Messiah, He is God incarnate, coming to earth to rescue his people.

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©2002 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All of the articles in this series are copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.

The Read Through the Bible Commentaries were sent out by email during 2002 and are available in an archive on this site. If you would like to receive the monthly En-Gedi commentary by email, use this form to sign up.



Week 43: Jer. 34 - 48, John 13 - 17, Psalm 119: 25 - 72


The Fragrance of Christ

Mary then took a pound of very costly perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  John 12:3

Last week we read the story of Jesus being anointed by Mary with very expensive perfume. We read in Matthew that Jesus comments that she did it to prepare for the day of his burial (Matt 26:12), so we focus on the story of the anointing as pointing toward's Christ's death at the end of the week. 

But, there is another thing going on that would have been obvious to the disciples too, probably so obvious that Jesus didn't even need to mention it. In the act of pouring expensive, perfumed oil on Jesus, Mary was making a clear statement of who she believed He was. Through that act, she proclaimed Him as the Anointed One, which is literally what Messiah means in Hebrew, and Christ in Greek. 

The word Messiah, or anointed, alludes to the ceremony used to set apart one who is chosen by God, as a king or priest would be. Instead of being crowned during a coronation, kings were anointed with sacred oil that was perfumed with extremely expensive spices, making it like diamonds in terms of its preciousness. It was used only for anointing objects in the Temple and for anointing priests and kings, to show that they had been chosen by God. It would have been like putting on an invisible crown that conferred an aura of holiness. Everything that had that unique smell would be known to all as God's special possession.

After this initial anointing, kings would anoint themselves with other precious scented oils for special occasions. We read that both king David and Solomon did this:

(Song to King David) You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of joy above Your fellows. All Your garments are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. (Ps. 45:7-8)

What is this coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all scented powders of the merchant? Behold, it is the traveling couch of Solomon; sixty mighty men around it, of the mighty men of Israel. (S. of Sol. 3:6-7)

So, in ancient times, the majesty of a king would be obvious to those around him, not only because of the jewels and robes that he wore, but by the scent of extremely expensive oils that were poured on him. These royal figures would process through the streets with the fragrance of the oils telling all of the bystanders that a king was passing by. We see this after the anointing of Solomon, who is placed on a donkey and parades through the streets of Jerusalem, while people stand by and cheer:

So Zadok the priest... went down and had Solomon ride on King David's mule, and brought him to Gihon. Zadok the priest then took the horn of oil from the tent and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet, and all the people said, "Long live King Solomon!" All the people went up after him, and the people were playing on flutes and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth shook at their noise. (1Kings 1:38 - 40)

This leads to a very interesting picture of Jesus final week before his death. In that ancient society, bathing wasn't done that often, and Jesus had one garment that He wore every day.  So because of Mary's anointing, during the final week of Jesus' life, He smelled like royalty. In a very subtle way, God gave the people who interacted with Jesus a very powerful message about Him. Every where He went, He smelled like a king! 

John says that the very next day, Jesus rode on a donkey on His triumphal entry into Jerusalem in a scene very reminiscent of the coronation of Solomon. As He rode past, the people who were cheering must have sniffed the air and said, "It was a king that just passed by!"

Imagine the passion week in that light. As Judas comes to the garden with the guards to arrest Him, the guards sniff the air and wonder what royalty stands before them. As He stands trial, is mocked, and stripped naked, the aroma of who He is clings to Him and quietly suggests who they are beating. Even when the tomb is empty except for His grave clothes, that odor wafts in the air when the women enter. What an amazing God we have!

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. (2 Cor. 2:14-16).

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©2002 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All of the articles in this series are copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.

The Read Through the Bible Commentaries were sent out by email during 2002 and are available in an archive on this site. If you would like to receive the monthly En-Gedi commentary by email, use this form to sign up.



Week 44: Jer. 49 - 52, Lam. Ezek. 1 - 5, John 18 - 21, James 1, Psalm 119:73 - 120


Encouraging Evidence

This week we will be beginning to read the book of James, written by James, the brother of Jesus, one of the leaders of the early church. It seems ironic that we will start reading his writings only a few days after the newspapers announced a truly amazing find - an ossuary that has the inscription, "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" on the side. 

Ossuaries are stone boxes that contain the bones of a deceased person. In the first century, after death, the body would be washed, anointed and wrapped in linen cloths, and then put in a family tomb. In a year, the tomb was opened again and the bones would be all that remained after the flesh had decayed away. The bones would be gathered together and placed in a box, called an ossuary, with the person's name. Often, in the Old Testament, it would speak of the deceased as one who was "gathered to his fathers" (Gen. 49:29, 2Kings 22:10). This refers to the fact that the person's bones would be gathered together with those of his fathers in the family tomb.

If this ossuary is really that of James, the brother of the Jesus we know, it is truly an outstanding find. It would be the oldest known inscription containing the name of Jesus, from 62 AD, an extremely early time. Interestingly, one of the few other ancient references we have to Jesus outside the Bible comes through his brother James, in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus. He says:

[Ananus] assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James...(Josephus, Antiquites, Bk. 20 Ch. 9)

There are a few reasons that we can't be absolutely certain that this box is the ossuary of the man James, from whom we will be reading. The three names on the box, Ya'acov (Jacob or James), Yosef (Joseph), and Yeshua (Jesus), were all common men's names in the first century. But, the fact that Jesus is listed as the brother is unusual, unless the brother is well known himself. It is interesting that often James seems to be referred to as "James, the brother of Jesus", both in the Bible and even in Josephus. We also don't know where exactly where it was found, except that the reports are that it was found in East Jerusalem, not an unlikely place if James was the leader of the early church there. The analysis of the stone and the chemical deposits indicates that it was most likely from the Jerusalem area. Archaeologists that have analyzed it are convinced that it is not a later forgery - it has a script and style very consistent with the late first century, which would be exactly the time the James died. Overall, the scholarly world says that while we can't be absolutely certain, this very well could be the ossuary of James, the brother of Jesus Christ.

What is amazing is that this find is one of several from just the past 50 years that are strong confirmation of the reality of the events in scripture. During the early 20th century scholars had a profound cynicism about the historicity of the Bible. This was mainly from the fact that they hadn't done enough archaeology, and didn't understand their results well enough to see the evidence that was there. But just in the past fifteen years, key evidence has been found for many of the characters in the biblical text. For instance, in 1990, the ossuary of the family of Caiaphas the high priest was found, and some of the bones that were found were those of a man in his 60's, presumably Caiaphas himself. So we even have the very bones of one of the people present at the trial of Jesus. Inscriptions with the names of Herod, Pilate and others have also been found. As you read the story in John this week, think about that!

Christians tend to be intimidated by scholarship and are fearful of higher study, feeling that it is more spiritual to not fill our heads with lots of facts. It is too bad, because if we believe that God is who He says, and that the message of the gospel is true, we should not lose confidence that it will hold up under scrutiny. The "good news" is that the archaeological evidence points our way, and we can study with integrity and see that the story holds up. If anything, the message only gets stronger when put into its native context.

In my own "walk", I have found that the more knowledge I have under my belt about the evidence for the scriptures, and even for potential difficulties in the text, the more bold my witness has been. Before, I felt like I was standing on one foot on a tiny bit of knowledge, fearfully defending the little ground I stood on. The more I study, the more the ground becomes solid around me, and the bolder I become in sharing with others. Jews say that "study is the highest form of worship" - and it is, because the more we study the real world, the more the reality becomes clear that God truly is here, and that He is acting powerfully in our midst.

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©2002 Lois A. Tverberg, Ph.D., OurRabbiJesus.com. All of the articles in this series are copyrighted and may not be redistributed without the express written consent of the author. To request permission for use, contact Tverberg@OurRabbiJesus.com.

The Read Through the Bible Commentaries were sent out by email during 2002 and are available in an archive on this site. If you would like to receive the monthly En-Gedi commentary by email, use this form to sign up.