What is the ‘Son of Man’? The Paradox at Jesus’ Trial

The Bible uses several titles in referring to Jesus. The most prominent is ‘Christ’, but it also uses ‘Son of God‘ and ‘Lamb of God‘ regularly. However, Jesus often refers to himself as ‘Son of Man’. What does this mean and why does he use this term? It is in the trial of Jesus that the irony of his use of ‘Son of Man’ really stands out. We explore this here.

Many are somewhat familiar with the trial of Jesus. Perhaps they have seen the trial depicted in a film or read it in one of the gospel accounts. Yet the trial that the Gospels record brings forth profound paradoxes. It forms part of the events of Day 6 in Passion Week. Luke records the details of the trial for us.

Jesus on trial before Pontius Pilate
Popular Graphic Arts, PD-US-expired, via Wikimedia Commons

At daybreak the council of the elders of the people, both the chief priests and teachers of the law, met together, and Jesus was led before them. “If you are the Christ”, they said, “tell us.”

Jesus answered, “If I tell you, you will not believe me, and if I asked you, you would not answer. But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.”

They all asked, “Are you then the Son of God?” He replied, “You are right in saying I am.”

Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We have heard it from his own lips.”

Luke 22: 66-71

Notice how Jesus does not answer their question whether he is the ‘Christ’.  Instead, he refers to something totally different, the ‘Son of Man’.  But his accusers don’t seem puzzled by that abrupt change of topic.  For some reason they understand him even though he does not answer if he was the Christ.

So why?  Where does ‘Son of Man’ come from and what does it mean?

The ‘Son of Man’ from Daniel

‘Son of man’ comes from Daniel in the Old Testament. He recorded a vision explicitly about the future, and in it he references a ‘Son of Man’.  Here is how Daniel recorded his vision:

Daniel lived ca 550 BCE, long before Jesus

“As I looked,

“thrones were set in place,
    and the Ancient of Days took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow;
    the hair of his head was white like wool.
His throne was flaming with fire,
    and its wheels were all ablaze.
10 A river of fire was flowing,
    coming out from before him.
Thousands upon thousands attended him;
    ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him.
The court was seated,
    and the books were opened….

Daniel 7:9-10

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13-14

vs. Son of Man at Jesus’ Trial

Now reflect on the irony of the situation at Jesus’ trial. There stood Jesus, a peasant carpenter living in the backwater of the Roman Empire. He had a ragtag following of lowly fishermen. At his recent arrest, they had just deserted him in terror. Now he is on trial for his life. By calling himself the Son of Man he calmly claimed before the chief priests and other accusers to be that person in Daniel’s vision.

But Daniel described the son of man as ‘coming on the clouds of heaven’. Daniel foresaw the Son of Man taking worldwide authority and establishing a never-ending kingdom. That could not be more different from the actual situation that Jesus found himself in at his trial. It would seem almost ludicrous to bring up that title with him being in that situation.

What was Luke thinking?

Jesus is not the only one behaving strangely. Luke does not shy away from recording this claim and putting it on record. However, when he did so (early 60s first century CE) the prospects for Jesus and his fledgling movement seemed laughable. His movement was ridiculed by the elite, disdained by the Jews, and ruthlessly persecuted by the insane Roman Emperor Nero.  Nero had the Apostle Peter crucified upside-down and Paul beheaded.  It should seem beyond sane reason that Luke would keep that fantastic reference in the mouth of Jesus. By writing it down he made it public for all their detractors to scoff at.  But Luke was confident that Jesus of Nazareth was this same Son of Man from Daniel’s vision. So, against all odds, he records Jesus’ irrational (if it were not true) exchange with his accusers.

Philip Devere, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons

‘Son of Man’ – being fulfilled in our time

Now consider this. Only after Jesus gave his reply, and centuries after Luke put it on record, some significant parts of the Daniel Son of Man vision have been fulfilled by Jesus.  Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man stated that:

“all peoples, nations, and men of every language worshiped him”.

That was not true of Jesus two thousand years ago. But look around now. People from every nation and practically each of the thousands of languages do worship him today. This includes former animists from the Amazon to Papua New Guinea, the jungles of India to Cambodia. From East to West and North to South people worship him now on a global scale. For no one else in all of recorded history is this even remotely plausible. One may dismiss this with a ‘yes well that is due to the spread of Christianity’. Sure, hindsight is 20-20. But Luke had no human way of knowing how things would unfold in the centuries after he recorded his account.

How could the Son of Man get worship

And worship, to be real worship, can only be given by a free will, not under coercion or by bribery. Suppose Jesus was the Son of Man with the powers of Heaven at his command. Then he would have had the might 2000 years ago to rule by force. But by force alone he would never have been able to get true worship out of people. For that to happen people must be freely won over, like a maiden by her lover.

Asbury Revival- nonstop, two-week prayer and worship session that took place at Asbury University (2023)
Mollie Landman HunkerCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Thus to reach fulfillment Daniel’s vision required, in principle, a period of free and open invitation. A time when people could freely choose whether they would give the Son of Man worship or not. This explains the period we now live in, between the First Coming and the Return of the King. This is the period when the Kingdom’s invitation goes out. We can freely accept it or not.

The partial fulfillment of Daniel’s vision in our times provides a basis to trust that the remainder will also be fulfilled someday.  At the very least it might raise our curiosity about the truth of the overall Biblical story.

In his first coming he came to defeat sin and death. He achieved this by dying himself and then rising. He now invites everyone thirsty for everlasting life to take it. When he returns as per Daniel’s vision he will fully establish the ever-lasting Kingdom with its ever-lasting citizens. And we can be part of it.

The Dead Sea Scrolls and Old Testament Reliability

We previously looked at the basic principles used in the discipline of Textual Criticism. We then applied these principles to the New Testament. By these measures the New Testament reliability exceeds that of any other ancient book.

But what about the books of the Old Testament? Are they as reliable and unchanged as the New Testament? What role do the Dead Sea Scrolls play in this?

The Old Testament: An Ancient Library

The Old Testament’s uniqueness comes in several ways. First it should be thought of more as a library since many authors wrote the various books of the Old Testament. Second, they wrote them a very long time ago. To appreciate the immense antiquity of the Old Testament writings, we compare them in a timeline with other ancient writings:

Historical Timeline with Major Biblical Characters

The timeline above places Abraham, Moses, David and Isaiah in history. They are the major characters of the Old Testament. Compare where they sit on the timeline with Thucydides and Herodotus, whom historians consider the earliest ‘Fathers of History’. Herodotus and Thucydides only lived when Malachi wrote the final Old Testament book. Their writings only looked back about 100 years before their time to conflicts between Greek city states, and between Greece and Persia. Other important historical persons and events like the founding of Rome, Alexander the Great, and the Buddha all come much later than the Old Testament characters. Essentially, the rest of the world only woke up to history when the Old Testament added its final books to its rather extensive collection.

Textual Criticism of the Old Testament Masoretic Text

The authors of the 39 Old Testament books wrote between 1500 BCE and 400 BCE. They wrote in Hebrew with small portions in the later books written in Aramaic. The blue band shows the 1100 year period when the various Old Testament books were written (1500 – 400 BCE):

Timeline of the Old Testament Masoretic Manuscript

These original writings are preserved today in Hebrew manuscript copies known as the Masoretic Text. Modern Bible translators use the Masoretic Text to translate the Hebrew Old Testament into today’s languages. So using the principles of Textual Criticism (see here for details), how reliable is the Masoretic Text?

The Earliest Existing Masoretic Copies

ManuscriptDate of Composition
Codex Cairensis895 CE
Aleppo Codex950 CE
Codex Sassoon1000 CE
Codex Leningradensis1008 CE

So you can see that the earliest existing Masoretic manuscripts date only starting from 895 CE. If we put these manuscripts in a timeline with the original writings of the Old Testament, we are given the following:

Timeline of the Old Testament Masoretic Manuscript

You can also see that the interval between the date of composition and the earliest existing copies (the primary principle in Textual Criticism) exceeds 1000 years. 

The Dead Sea Scrolls

The Qumran Caves (Cave #4)
Effi Schweizer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1948, Palestinian shepherds discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls hidden in caves by the shores of the Dead Sea in Qumran. A shepherd boy had thrown some stones into the mouth of a cave higher up in the face of a cliff. He then heard the sound of clay jars breaking from the impact of the stones. Intrigued, he climbed up the cliffs and found the sealed clay jars with the Dead Sea Scrolls inside. The Dead Sea Scrolls contained Hebrew manuscripts of all the books of the Old Testament, except the Book of Esther. Scholars date their composition between 250 and 100 BCE.

Dead Sea Scrolls in the Timeline of the Old Testament Manuscripts
Short Video on Textual Criticism and Dead Sea Scrolls

Significance of Dead Sea Scrolls for Textual Criticism

With the discovery and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the mid-twentieth century the whole world witnessed a monumental event in Textual Criticism. In basically one instant, the Dead Sea Scrolls pushed the Old Testament Hebrew text 1000 years back in time. This raised the intriguing question: Had the Hebrew text of the Old Testament changed during this 1000 year period from 100 BCE to 900 CE? Europe at this time had built its civilization over the preceding 1500 years based upon the Old Testament. Had that text been changed or altered during its history? The Dead Sea Scrolls could shed light on this question. So what did they find?

“These [DDSs] confirm the accuracy of the Masoretic Text… Except for a few instances where spelling and grammar differ between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Masoretic Text, the two are amazingly similar.”

M.R. Norton. 1992. Manuscripts of the Old Testament in The Origin of the Bible.
Dead Sea Scrolls in the Timeline of the Old Testament Manuscripts

Scholars found almost no change in the Hebrew between the Masoretic Text and the Dead Sea Scrolls, though they jumped back 1000 years. In comparison, consider how much the English language has changed in the last 700 years, yet the remarkable Hebrew text remained static over such a great length of time.

The Psalms Scroll
Photograph: The Israel Antiquities Authority, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls for the Bible’s Integrity

The Dead Sea Scrolls support the Bible’s primary claim to authenticity. The New Testament claims that Jesus fulfills God’s Plan announced since the beginning of human history. The many Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by him throughout his life provides a central proof, or evidence, for this claim. The reasoning is as simple as it is logical.  No human, no matter how clever, educated, or knowledgeable knows the future, especially when looking hundreds of years ahead. But God does know, and even sets up, the future. So if we find writings that correctly prophesy minute details of monumental events hundreds of years into the future they must have been inspired by God rather than merely thought up by men. You can think of the Old Testament prophecies forming a lock, waiting for a key to ‘fit’ into the lock to open it. Jesus claimed to be that key.

Genesis 1:1-8 From the Dead Sea Scrolls
Photograph: The Israel Antiquities Authority, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

However, before the Dead Sea Scrolls, we did not have definitive proof that these prophecies were actually in writing before the events that they foresaw. Some dismissed them by arguing, for example, that perhaps the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus were ‘inserted’ into the Old Testament say in 200 CE. Since no Hebrew Old Testament text before 900 CE existed, that objection could not be quickly refuted. But with the Dead Sea Scrolls we find these prophecies had indeed been written down at the very latest by 100 BCE, 130 years before Jesus taught, performed miracles, and resurrected from the dead. 

The Old Testament Prophecies in the Dead Sea Scrolls

So the Dead Sea Scrolls prove that the prophecies were in print before Jesus fulfilled them. The prophecies found in the Dead Sea Scrolls include:

The Dead Sea Scrolls and Israel

The world discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948. This was the same year as the modern revival of Israel into a nation after almost 2000 years of Jewish exile. The timing of these two central events of the 20th century, being the same year, makes their remarkable re-entry to our world even seem scheduled by a Higher Power. Even just in their discovery, the Dead Sea Scrolls hint that The Mind foreordaining Jesus’ coming thousands of years ago seems to be still organizing events today.

What is the Greatest Love Story ever?

If you were to name some classic love stories you might suggest Helen of Troy & Paris (igniting the Trojan War dramatized in the Iliad), Cleopatra and Mark Antony (whose love entwined Rome in a civil war with Octavian/Augustus Caesar), Romeo & Juliet, Beauty & the Beast, or perhaps Cinderella & Prince Charming. In them, history, pop culture, and romantic fiction come together in offering passionate love stories. These easily captivate our hearts, emotions, and imaginations.

Ruth & Boaz Love Story

Amazingly, the love that sparked between Ruth & Boaz has proved far more enduring than any of these love affairs. It still affects the lives of all the billions of us living today. Its ramifications live on more than three thousand years after these lovers met. Rather than the tabloid love stories that last only a fleeting moment their love has outlasted all the classics mentioned above. Their romance is also a picture of a mystical and spiritual love offered to you and me. The story of Ruth and Boaz deals with cross-cultural & forbidden love. It models a healthy relationship between a powerful man and a vulnerable woman. Thus it speaks to today’s #MeToo generation. It becomes a blueprint for us on how to establish a healthy marriage. By any of these measures, the love story of Ruth & Boaz is worth knowing.

The Book of Ruth in the Bible records their love.  It is a short book with only 2400 words. It thus makes a quick read (here).  The setting happens around 1150 BCE, making this the oldest of all recorded love stories. 

Hollywood movie depicting the Ruth Love story

The Love Story of Ruth

Naomi and her husband with their two sons leave Israel to escape drought. They settle in the nearby country of Moab (today’s Jordan).  After marrying local women the two sons die, as does Naomi’s husband, leaving her alone with her two daughters-in-law.  Naomi decides to return to her native Israel and one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, chooses to accompany her.  After a long absence, Naomi is back in her native Bethlehem. She has become a destitute widow and is accompanied by Ruth, a young and vulnerable Moabite immigrant.

Ruth & Boaz meet

Ruth & Boaz meet. Much art has been done depicting their meeting
Much art has been done depicting the meeting of Ruth and Boaz

Bereft of income, Ruth goes out to gather grain left behind by the local harvest crews in the fields.  The Law of Moses, as a social safety net, had ordained harvesters to leave some grains behind in their fields. Accordingly, the impoverished could gather food and survive.  Randomly it would seem, Ruth finds herself picking grains in the fields of a wealthy landowner named Boaz.  Boaz notices Ruth among the others working hard to gather up the grains left behind by his work crews.  He instructs his foremen to leave extra grain behind in the field so that she can gather more.

Because she can gather plentifully in his fields, Ruth comes back to Boaz’s fields every day to gather left-over grain.  Boaz, ever the protector, ensures that his crews do not harass or molest Ruth.  Instead, he commands them to leave more grain behind for her to gather. Ruth and Boaz become interested in each other. But because of differences in age, social status, and nationality, neither makes a move.  Here Naomi steps in as match-maker.  She instructs Ruth to boldly lay down by Boaz’s side at night after he has celebrated the harvest gathering.  Boaz understands this as a marriage proposal and decides to marry her.

Kinsman Redeemer

But the situation is more complicated than simply love between them. Naomi is a relative of Boaz, and since Ruth is her daughter-in-law, Boaz, and Ruth are kin by marriage. Boaz must marry her as a ‘kinsmen redeemer’. This meant that under the Law of Moses, he would marry her ‘in the name’ of her first husband (Naomi’s son). In this way, he would provide for Naomi also. This would entail that Boaz purchases Naomi’s family fields. Though that would prove costly to Boaz it was not the biggest obstacle. There was another closer relative that had first rights to buy Naomi’s family’s fields (and also thus marry Ruth). 

So the marriage of Ruth to Boaz hung on whether another man wanted the responsibility to care for Naomi and Ruth. At a public meeting of the city elders, this first-in-line declined the marriage. He did so because it put his estate at risk. Boaz was thus free to purchase and redeem Naomi’s family estate and marry Ruth.

Legacy of Ruth & Boaz

In their union, they had a child, Obed, who in turn became the grandfather of King David. God promised David that ‘a Christ’ would come from his family, with further prophecies following. Centuries later, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the same town that Ruth and Boaz had met in long before. Their romance, marriage, and family line resulted in offspring that today is the basis for the BCE and CE calendar. Global holidays like Christmas & Easter also count among the by-products of that love. Not bad for a romance in a dusty village over 3000 years ago.

Picturing a Greater Love Story

The rich and powerful Boaz treated Ruth, the destitute foreign woman, with chivalry and respect. This speaks against the harassment and exploitations now common in our #MeToo day. The historical impact of the family line which this romance and marriage produced, detectable every time we note the date on our devices, gives this love story an enduring legacy. But the Ruth & Boaz love story is also a picture of an even greater love. You and I are invited to this one.

The Bible describes us in a manner evoking Ruth when it says:

I will plant her for myself in the land;
I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’

Hosea 2:23

The Old Testament prophet Hosea (ca 750 BCE) initiated reconciliation in his fractured marriage. The scripture used this reunion to picture God reaching out to us, the unloved, with His love. Ruth also entered the land as one unloved but then was shown love by Boaz. Likewise, God desires to show His love even to those of us who feel far from His love. The New Testament (Romans 9:25) quotes this to show how God reaches wide to love those far from Him.

How is His love shown? Jesus, that descendant offspring from Boaz & Ruth, is God come-in-the-flesh. Therefore he is our ‘kinsman’, just as Boaz was to Ruth. Thus, as Boaz paid to redeem Ruth, Jesus paid for our debt to God on the cross, and thus he…

Jesus paid our price

gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:14

Boaz was a ‘kinsman-redeemer’ who paid a price to redeem Ruth. This explicitly illustrated, how likewise, Jesus our ‘kinsman-redeemer’, paid (with his life) to redeem us.

A Model for our marriages

The way Jesus (and Boaz) paid to redeem and then win his bride models how we can build our marriages.  The Bible explains how we establish our marriages:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wifeas he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Ephesians 5:21-33

Boaz and Ruth established their marriage on love and respect. Jesus’ care for his church is a model for husbands to love their wives sacrificially. So we do well to build our marriages on these same values.

A Wedding Invitation for you and me

As in all good love stories, the Bible concludes with a wedding.  The price that Boaz paid to redeem Ruth paved the way for their wedding. Likewise, the price that Jesus paid has paved the way for our wedding.  That wedding is not figurative but real, and those accepting his wedding invitation are called ‘The Bride of Christ’.  As it says:

Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. 

Revelation 19:7

Those who receive Jesus’ offer of redemption become his ‘bride’.  This heavenly wedding is offered to all of us.  The Bible ends with this invitation for you and me to come to His wedding

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

Revelation 22:17

The relationship between Ruth & Boaz is a model of love that is still making itself felt today.  It is a picture of the heavenly romance of God who loves us.  He will marry as His Bride all who accept His marriage proposal.  As with any marriage proposal, His offer should be weighed to see if you should accept it.  Start here with the ‘plan’ laid out from the beginning of human history and follow its development. Notice how it is all predicted long beforehand to prove it really is God’s Proposal.

Another adaptation of the Book of Ruth in film

What’s the Gospel? Considered through COVID, Quarantine and Vaccine

The novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, emerged in China towards the end of 2019.  Just a few months later it had raged around the world, infecting and killing millions while spreading to every country.

The lightning fast spread of COVID-19 created panic around the world.  People were unsure what to do in light of this pandemic.  But before vaccines emerged, medical professionals insisted that success in containing COVID-19 hung on one big strategy. Everyone on the planet practiced social distancing and quarantine. This caused authorities around the world to setup lockdown and isolation rules. 

In most places people could not meet in large groups and had to keep at least two meters distance from others. Those who came in contact with someone testing positive for COVID-19 had to completely isolate themselves from contact with others. 

Simultaneously, medical researchers raced to find a vaccine.  They hoped that vaccinated people would develop resistance to the coronavirus. Then the spread of COVID-19 would be less fatal and slow down. 

Covid -19 Vaccine

These extreme procedures to isolate, quarantine, and develop a coronavirus vaccine, provide a living illustration of another procedure to treat a different virus. But this virus is a spiritual one.  That procedure is at the heart of the mission of Jesus and his Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The coronavirus was so serious that societies across the planet attempted drastic steps to protect their citizens. So perhaps it is worthwhile to also understand this spiritual counterpart. We do not want to be caught unaware by this threat like the world was with COVID.  The COVID-19 pandemic illustrates abstract Biblical themes like sin, heaven, and hell, but also the mission of Jesus.

First how the infectious disease illustrates sin…

A Deadly & Contagious Infection.

No one really thought that COVID-19 is pleasant to think about, but it was unavoidable. Likewise, the Bible talks a great deal about sin and its consequences, another topic we prefer to avoid.  An image the Bible uses to describe sin is that of a spreading infectious disease. Like COVID, it describes sin as going across the whole human race and killing it.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned. 

Romans 5:12

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
    and like the wind our sins sweep us away. 

Isaiah 64:6

Epidemics are diseases but are not the cause of the disease. For example, AIDS is the disease; HIV is the virus that causes the disease. SARS is the disease; SARS Coronavirus-1 is the virus that causes the disease. COVID-19 is a disease with its symptoms. SARS Coronavirus-2 is the virus behind it. In the same way, the Bible says that our sins (plural) are a spiritual disease. Sin (singular) is its root, and it results in death.

Moses & the Bronze Serpent

Jesus linked an Old Testament event connecting disease and death to his mission. This is the account of snakes infesting the Israelite camp in the time of Moses. The Israelites needed a cure before death overwhelmed them all.

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. 

Numbers 21:4-9
Israelites being captured by snakes
Moses made the bronze snake

Throughout the Old Testament, one became unclean either by infectious disease, by touching dead bodies, or by sin. These three are associated with one another. The New Testament sums up our situation like this:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

Ephesians 2: 1-2

Death in the Bible means ‘separation’. It involves both a physical (soul separates from the body) and spiritual death (soul separated from God).  Sin is like an unseen but real virus inside us. It causes immediate spiritual death. This then leads to a certain physical death over time.

Though we would rather not think about it, the Bible treats sin as real and deadly as the Coronavirus. We cannot afford to ignore it. But it also points to the vaccine…

The Vaccine – Through the death of the Seed

From its beginning, the Bible developed a theme of the coming Seed.  A seed is essentially a packet of DNA that can unfurl and develop into new life.  The DNA in a seed is specific information from which it builds large molecules of specific shapes (proteins).  In this sense, it is similar to a vaccine, which are large molecules (called antigens) of a specific shape.  God promised that this coming Seed, announced from the beginning, would solve the problem of sin and death.

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

Genesis 3:15

See here for details on the woman and her Seed.  God later promised that the Seed would come through Abraham to go to all nations.

In your (Abraham’s) seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.

Genesis 22:18

In these promises the Seed is singular.  A ‘he’, not a ‘they’ or an ‘it’, was to come.

The Gospel reveals Jesus as the promised Seed – but with a twist. The seed would die.  

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

John 12:23-24

His death was on our behalf.

But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Hebrews 2:9

Some vaccines first kill the virus in it. Then the vaccine with the dead virus is injected into our bodies. In this way, our bodies can produce the necessary antibodies. Our immune system can thus defend our bodies from the virus. Similarly, the death of Jesus enables that Seed to now indwell us. So now we can develop an immune defense against that spiritual virus – sin.

Covid -19 Antibodies

No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

1 John 3:9

The Bible continues to explain what this means:

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

2 Peter 1:4

Though sin has corrupted us, the life of the Seed in us takes root and enables us to ‘participate in the divine nature’. The corruption is not only undone, but we can be like God in a manner impossible otherwise.

But, without an adequate vaccine our only option for Covid is quarantine.  This is also true in the spiritual realm.  We know that quarantine more commonly as Hell.

How is this so?

Quarantine – Separation of Heaven & Hell

Jesus taught on coming of the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’. When we think of ‘heaven’ we often think of its situation or milieu – those ‘streets of gold’. But the greater hope of the Kingdom is a society with citizens of completely honest and selfless character. Reflect on how much we build into the ‘kingdoms’ of the earth to protect ourselves from each other. Everyone has locks on their homes, some with advanced security systems. We lock our cars and tell our kids not to speak to strangers. Every city has a police force. We vigilantly protect our online data. Think of all the systems, practices, and procedures that we have put in place in our ‘kingdoms on earth’. Now realize that they are there simply to protect ourselves from each other. Then you may get a glimmer of the problem of sin in heaven. 

Exclusivity of Paradise

A depiction of what heaven might look like

If God set up a kingdom of ‘heaven’ and then made us citizens of it, we would quickly turn it into the hell we have turned this world into. The gold on the streets would vanish in no time. God must root out the sin in us just like societies try to eradicate COVID-19 for society to be healthy. Not one person who ‘missed’ (the meaning of sin) this perfect standard could enter God’s kingdom. Because then he would ruin it. Instead, God needs to enforce a quarantine so sin would not wreck heaven.

What then for those whom God quarantines and denies entry? In this world, if you are denied entry to a country you cannot also participate in its resources and benefits. (You cannot receive its welfare, medical treatment ,etc.). But all in all, people around the world, even terrorists on the run from all countries, enjoy the same basic amenities of nature. These include such basic and taken for granted things as breathing the air, seeing light like everyone else.

What separation from God finally is

But who made light? The Bible claims

‘God said, “Let there be light” and there was light’.

Genesis 1:3
A depiction of what hell might look like

If that is true then all light is His – and it turns out that we are just borrowing it now. But with the final establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven, His light will be in His Kingdom. So ‘outside’ will be ‘darkness’ – just as Jesus described Hell in this parable.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 

Matthew 22: 13

If there is a Creator then most of what we take for granted and assume is ‘ours’ is really His. Start with such a basic entity as ‘light’, the world around us, and go on to our natural abilities such as thought and speech. We really did nothing to create these and our other abilities. We simply find ourselves able to use and develop them.  When the Owner finalizes His Kingdom He will reclaim all that is his.

When COVID-19 breaks out bringing death and havoc among us all we hear no argument when experts insist on quarantine. So it is no surprise to hear Jesus teach in his parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus that

And besides all this, between us (in Kingdom of God) and you (in Hell) a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.

Luke 16:26

Taking the vaccination – Jesus’ explanation of the Bronze Serpent

Jesus once explained his mission using the story above about Moses and the deadly serpents.  Think about what would have happened for the people bitten by the snakes.

When bitten by a poisonous snake, the venom entering the body is an antigen, just like a virus infection.  The normal treatment is to try to suck the venom out. Then bind the bitten limb tightly so that the blood flow ebbs and the venom does not spread from the bite. Finally, reduce activity so that the lowered heart rate will not quickly pump the venom through the body. 

When the serpents infected the Israelites, God told them to look at the bronze serpent held up on a pole. You might imagine some bitten person rolling out of bed, looking at the nearby bronze serpent, and then being healed. But there were about 3 million people in the Israelite camp. (They counted over 600 000 men of military age). This is the size of a large modern city. Chances were high that those bitten were several kilometers away, and out of sight from, the bronze serpent pole.

The Counter-Intuitive Choice with the serpents

So those bitten by the snakes had to make a choice.  They could take standard precautions involving binding the wound tightly and resting to restrict blood flow and spread of the venom.  Or they would have to trust the remedy announced by Moses. To do that they would have to walk several kilometers, raising the blood flow and spread of the venom, before looking on the bronze serpent.  The trust or lack of trust in the word of Moses would determine each person’s course of action.

Jesus referred to this when he said

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him may have eternal life.

John 3:14-15

Jesus said that our situation is like that serpent story.  The snakes that infested the camp are like sin in us and society.  We are infected with the venom of sin and we will die from it. This death is an eternal one requiring Quarantine from the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus then said that his being lifted up on the cross was like the bronze serpent lifted on a pole.  Just as the bronze serpent could cure the Israelites of their deadly venom so he can cure ours.  The Israelites in the camp had to look at the raised serpent.  But to do that they would have to explicitly trust the solution provided by Moses. They would have to act counter-intuitively by not slowing the heart rate.  It was their trust in what God provided that saved them. 

Our Counter-Intuitive Choice with Jesus

It is the same for us.  We do not physically look at the cross, but we trust in that provision given by God to save us from the infection of sin and death. 

However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness. 

Romans 4:5

Rather than trusting our ability to fight off the infection, we trust God who made the vaccine in the Seed.  We trust him with the details of the vaccine.  This is why ‘Gospel’ means ‘Good news’.  Anyone who has been infected with a deadly disease but now hears that a life-saving vaccine is available and given for free – that is good news.

Come & See

Of course, we need a reason to trust both the diagnosis and the vaccine.  We dare not give our trust naively.  As one of the earliest discussions on this theme records

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

John 1:45-46

The Gospel invites us to come and see, to examine that Seed.  Here are some articles to help you do that including:

Come and see like Nathanael did so long ago.

Apparel: Why More than just Clothing?

Why do you clothe yourself?  Not with just anything that fits, but you want fashionable clothing that states who you are.  What causes you to instinctively need to wear clothing, not just to stay warm but also to express yourself visually?

Isn’t it odd that you find the same instinct across the planet, no matter what people’s language, race, education, religion is?  Women perhaps more than men, but they also display the same tendency.  In 2016 the global textile industry exported $1.3 Trillion USD.

The instinct to clothe ourselves feels so utterly normal and natural that many don’t often stop to ask, “Why?”. 

We put forth theories as to where the earth came from, where people came from, why the continents drift apart. But have you ever read a theory as to where our need for clothing comes from?

Only Humans – but not just for warmth

Let’s start with the obvious.  Animals certainly do not have this instinct.  They are all perfectly happy to be stark naked in front of us, and others all the time.  This is true even for higher animals.  If we are simply higher than higher animals this does not seem to add up.

Our need to be clothed comes not just from our need for warmth. We know this because much of our fashion and clothing comes from places with almost unbearable heat.  Clothing is functional, keeping us warm and protecting us. But these reasons do not answer our instinctive needs for modesty, gender expression and self-identity.

Clothing – from the Hebrew Scriptures

The one account explaining why we clothe ourselves, and seek to do it tastefully, comes from the ancient Hebrew Scriptures.  These Scriptures place you and me into a story that claims to be historical. It offers insight into who you are, why you do what you do, and what is in store for your future.  This story goes back to the dawn of mankind yet also explains everyday phenomena like why you clothe yourself.  Becoming familiar with this account is worthwhile since it offers many insights about yourself, guiding you to more abundant living. Here we look at the Biblical account through the lens of clothing.

We have been looking at the ancient creation account from the Bible. We started with the beginning of mankind and the world. Then we looked at the primeval showdown between two great adversaries. Now we look at these events from a slightly different perspective, which explains mundane events like shopping for fashionable clothes.

Made In the Image of God

We explored here that God had made the cosmos and then

Biblical series, The Creation of the World, the sixth day, finally humans, made in the image of God were created

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

In creation God fully expressed himself artistically through the beauty of creation.  Think of sunsets, flowers, tropical birds and landscape vistas.  Because God is artistic, you also, made ‘in his image’, will instinctively, without even consciously knowing ‘why’, likewise express yourself aesthetically. 

Fir0002GFDL 1.2, via Wikimedia Commons

We saw that God is a person.  God is a ‘he’, not an ‘it’.  Therefore, it is only natural that you also want to express yourself both visually and personally.  Clothing, jewellery, colors and cosmetics (make-up, tattoos etc) is thus a prominent way for you to express yourself aesthetically as well as individually.

Male and Female

God also made humans in the image of God as ‘male and female’.  From this we also understand why you create your ‘look’, by your clothing ,fashion, through your hairstyle and etc. This we naturally and easily recognize as male or female.  This goes deeper than cultural fashion.  If you see fashion and clothing from a culture you have never seen before you will generally generally be able to distinguish male and female clothing in that culture.. 

Wellcome Library, LondonCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Thus your creation in the image of God as male or female begins explaining your clothing instincts.  But this Creation account continues with some subsequent historical events which further explains clothing and you.

Covering our Shame

God gave the first humans the choice to obey or disobey Him in their primeval paradise.  They chose to disobey and when they did the creation account tells us that:

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Genesis 3:7

This tells us that from this point on humans lost their innocence before each other and before their Creator.  Ever since then we instinctively have felt shame about being naked and have desired to cover our own nakedness.  Beyond the need to stay warm and protected, we feel exposed, vulnerable and ashamed when naked in front of others.  Mankind’s choice to disobey God unleashed this in us.  It also unleashed the world of suffering, pain, tears and death that we all know so well.

Extending Mercy: A Promise and some clothes

God, in his mercy for us, then did two things.  First, He uttered a Promise in riddle form that would direct human history.  In this riddle He promised the coming redeemer, Jesus. God would send him to help us, to defeat his enemy, and to conquer death for us.

The second thing that God did was:

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.

Genesis 3:21
Adam and Eve being clothed

God provided clothing to cover their nakedness.  God did so to address their shame.  Ever since that day, we, the children of these human ancestors, instinctively clothe ourselves as a result of these events. 

Clothing of Skin – A Visual Aid

God clothed them in a specific way to illustrate a principle for us.  The clothing that God provided was not a cotton blouse or denim shorts but ‘garments of skin’.  This meant that God killed an animal in order to make skins to cover their nakedness.  They had tried to cover themselves with leaves, but these were insufficient and so skins were required.  In the creation account, up to this time, no animal had ever died.  That primeval world had not experienced death.  But now God sacrificed an animal to cover their nakedness and shield their shame.

This began a tradition, practised by their descendants, running through all cultures, of animal sacrifice.  Eventually people forgot the truth that this sacrifice tradition illustrated. But it was preserved in the Bible.

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23
Sacrificed lamb

This states that the consequence of sin is death, and it must be paid.  We can pay it ourselves with our own death, or someone else can pay for it on our behalf.  The sacrificed animals continually illustrated this concept.  But they were only illustrations, visual aids pointing to the real sacrifice that would one day free us of sin.  This was fulfilled in the coming of Jesus who willingly sacrificed himself for us.  This great victory has ensured that

The last enemy to be destroyed is death

1 Corinthians 15:26

The Coming Wedding Feast – Wedding Clothes compulsory

Jesus likened this coming day, when He destroys death, to a great wedding feast.  He told the following parable

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 22: 8 -13

In this story that Jesus told, everyone is invited to this festival.  People will come from every nation.  And because Jesus paid for everyone’s sin he also gives out the clothes for this festival.  The clothing here represents his merit which sufficiently covers our shame.  Though the wedding invitations go far and wide, and the king distributes wedding clothes free-of-charge, he still requires them.  We need his payment to cover our sin.  The man who did not clothe himself with the wedding clothes was rejected from the festival.  This is why Jesus says later on:

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Revelation 3:18

God built on this initial visual aid of animal skins covering our nakedness by pre-enacting the coming sacrifice of Jesus in remarkable ways. He tested Abraham in the exact place and in a manner illustrating the Real coming sacrifice. He also instituted Passover which indicated the exact day and also further illustrated the Real coming sacrifice. But, given how we have seen clothing first come up right in the creation account, it is intriguing that creation also pre-enacted Jesus’ work.

Races and Languages: From Where? Answering Racism

People often mentally categorize others by race. Physical features, like skin color, that distinguish one group of people, a ‘race’, from another, are easy to notice. So Caucasians are ‘white’, while those of Asian and African decent are darker.

Collective, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These traits distinguishing groups of people from each other easily leads to racism. This is the discrimination, ill-treatment, or enmity towards other races. Racism has contributed to making societies today more caustic and hateful, and it seems to be on the rise. What can we do to combat racism?

The question of racism begs a related question. Where do races come from? Why do race differences among humans exist? Additionally, since race has a strong correlation with ancestral language; Why are there different languages?

The ancient Hebrew Scriptures record a historical event in early human history explaining both the diversity of languages we hear, and the different ‘races’ that we see today. The account is worth knowing.

Genetic Similarity in the Human Species Leading To Our Genetic Ancestors

Before we explore the account there are some basic facts we should know about the genetic makeup of humanity. 

The genes in our DNA provides the blueprint that determines the way we look, our physical characteristics. Humans exhibit very little genetic diversity between different people compared to the diversity seen within an animal species. What this means is that the genetic difference between any two people is very little (on average 0.6%). This is much less than, for example, compared to genetic differences between two macaque monkeys.

DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid)
PublicDomainPictures, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

In fact, humans are so genetically uniform that we can trace the line of descent from all women alive today back through their mothers, and their mothers, and so on. Doing so shows all lines converging to one ancestral genetic mother, known as Mitochondrial Eve. There is also a male equivalent known as Y-Chromosomal Adam. He is the most recent ancestral male from whom all humans living today have descended. There exists an unbroken line of male ancestors going back to him. The Bible does state that all humans alive today descend from an original Adam and Eve. So genetic evidence is consistent with the Bible’s account of the origins of humans. Not only the ancient Chinese, but modern genetics testify to an Adam as our common ancestor.

Origin of Human Races According to the Bible

But then how did the different human races arise? The ancient Hebrew Scriptures describes, just a few generations after the flood, how people were scattered across the earth. With only some basics in genetics, we can see how such an event would give rise to today’s races. The ancient account reads: 

1 Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.

3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Genesis 11:1-4

The account records that everyone spoke the same language. With this unity they devised new technologies and started to use them to build a high tower. This tower was to observe and track the movement of stars, since astrology was keenly studied in that time. However, the Creator God made the following assessment:

The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

Genesis 11:6-9

History records that civilization began in ancient Babylon (modern-day Iraq) and that from here spread across the planet. This account records why. Because the languages were confused this ancestral population was split into various language groups along clan lines.

Implications of Babel from Genetics

The Tower of Babel
Jl FilpoC, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The various sub-clans could no longer understand one another. Since kleshas and other negative attachments came naturally to people since sin and karma had entered the world, these various clans quickly became distrustful of each other. As a result they withdrew from other clans to protect themselves and they did not inter-marry across the language groups. Thus, in one generation the clans became genetically isolated from one another and dispersed.

Punnett Squares and Races

Consider how races arise from such a situation, focusing on skin color since that is a common marker of race. Skin color arises as a result of different levels of the protein melanin in the skin. White skin has less melanin, darker skin has more melanin, while black skin has the most melanin. All humans have some melanin in their skin. Darker people simply have more melanin, giving rise to darker skin. These levels of melanin are controlled genetically by several genes. Some genes express more melanin in the skin and some express less. We use a simple tool, called a Punnett square, to illustrate the various possible combinations of genes. 

Punnett Square of Melanin

For simplicity assume only two different genes (A and B) that code for different levels of melanin in the skin. The genes Mb and Ma express more melanin, while the alleles mb and ma express less melanin. A Punnett Square shows all possible outcomes of A and B that can arise by sexual reproduction if each parent has both alleles in their genes. The resulting square shows the 16 possible combinations of Ma, ma, Mb, and mb that can occur from the parents. This explains the diverse range of skin color that can result in their children. 

Punnett Square Demonstrated

Tower of Babel Scenario

Assume the Tower of Babel event occurred with parents who were heterozygous as in this Punnett square. With the confusion of languages the children would not inter-marry. Therefore each of the squares would reproductively isolate from the other squares. So the MaMb (darkest) would now only intermarry with other MaMb individuals. Thus all their offspring will only remain black since they only have genes expressing greater melanin. Likewise, all the mamb (white) would only intermarry with other mamb. Their offspring would always remain white. So the Tower of Babel explains reproductive isolation of the different squares and the emergence of different races.

We can see diversity like this arising from families today. Maria and Lucy Aylmer look like they come from different races (black and white), but in fact they are twin sisters from heterozygous parents. Diversity like this arises simply by genetic shuffling. But if diversity like this arises and then these offspring are reproductively isolated from each other, then their skin color distinctiveness will persist in their offspring. The Tower of Babel is that historical event explaining how clans retained their isolation from other language clans. Thus what we call ‘races’ today have persisted since then.

Twin Sisters Lucy and Maria Aylmer

One Family – No Race Distinction

But once we understand how races arose then we realize that all diverse races are simply part of the same human family. There is no basis for racism once we understand where race differences really come from.

As the Bible states:

26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.

Acts 17:26-27

All people today, no matter what their race, skin color, or other distinctive features, descend from the same original couple. In that case we are simply one large and diverse family. The Bible says that God established the diversity of nations so that we would reach out to find Him. He unfolds His way for us to reach Him by begetting one special nation out of all the nations. We look at how this nations finds its beginning next.

What can we do about racism?

Here is a list of some things we can do towards eliminating racism and combating it day-by-day:

  • Educate ourselves: We must educate ourselves about racism and the effects it has on people and society. For example, we can do research on racism in the past and present and its impact of people.
  • We should speak out against racism: Whether it occurs in our daily lives, places of employment, or communities, we must always speak out against racism. This entails rejecting racist humor, epithets, and stereotypes and the institutions and practices that uphold racial inequity must be held accountable for their systemic racism.
  • We can support anti-racist initiatives: We may assist groups like civil rights organizations, community-based groups, and advocacy groups in their efforts to combat racism and advance racial justice.
  • Look at our own biases: Implicit biases might be a factor in racism. We need to look at our own biases and make an effort to get rid of them.

The Precision and Power of Pentecost

The Day of Pentecost always comes on a Sunday.  It celebrates a remarkable event. But it is not only what happened that day but when and why it happened that reveals the hand of God. It also offers a powerful gift for you.

What happened on Pentecost

If you heard of ‘Pentecost’, you probably learned that it was the day when the Holy Spirit came to indwell the followers of Jesus.  This is the day that the Church, the “called-out ones” of God, was born. Acts chapter 2 of the Bible records the event. On that day, the Spirit of God descended on the first 120 followers of Jesus. Then they started proclaiming loudly in languages from around the world.  It created such a commotion that thousands in Jerusalem at the time came out to see what was happening.  In front of the gathered crowd, Peter spoke the first gospel message. The account records that ‘three thousand were added to their number that day’ (Acts 2:41). The number of gospel followers has been growing ever since that Pentecost Sunday.

People were filled with the Holy Spirit
The story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, PD-US-expired, via Wikimedia Commons

That day happened 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. It was during these 50 days that Jesus’ disciples became convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead. On Pentecost Sunday they went public and changed history. Whether you believe in the resurrection or not, the events of that Pentecost Sunday have affected your life.

This understanding of Pentecost, though correct, is not complete.  Many people want a repeat of that Pentecost Sunday through a similar experience.  The first disciples of Jesus had this Pentecostal experience by ‘waiting for the gift of the Spirit’. So today people hope that likewise by ‘waiting’ He will come again in a similar way.  Therefore, many people plead and wait for God to bring about another Pentecost.  To think this way assumes that it was the waiting and praying that moved the Spirit of God back then. To think this way is to miss its precision. In fact, the Pentecost recorded in Acts Chapter 2 was not the first Pentecost.

Pentecost from the Law of Moses

‘Pentecost’ was actually an annual Old Testament festival. Moses (1500 BCE) had established several festivals to be celebrated through the year. Passover was the first festival of the Jewish year.  Jesus had been crucified on a Passover day festival. The exact timing of his death to the sacrifices of the Passover lambs was meant as a sign.

The second festival was the feast of Firstfruits. The Law of Moses commanded its celebration on the ‘day after’ Passover Saturday (=Sunday). Jesus rose on Sunday, so his resurrection occurred exactly on the Firstfruits Festival.  Since his resurrection happened on ‘Firstfruits’, it Promised that our resurrection would follow later (for all those who trust him).  His resurrection is literally a ‘firstfruits’, just as the festival name prophesied.

Precisely 50 days after the ‘Firstfruits’ Sunday the Jews celebrated Pentecost. (‘Pente’ for 50.  It was also called Feast of Weeks since it was counted by seven weeks).  Jews had been celebrating Pentecost for 1500 years by the time the Pentecost of Acts 2 happened.  The reason that there were people from all over the world that Pentecost day in Jerusalem to hear Peter’s message was precisely because they were there to celebrate the Old Testament Pentecost.  Today, Jews still celebrate Pentecost but call it Shavuot.

We read in the Old Testament how Pentecost was to be celebrated:

Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD.

Leviticus 23:16-17

Precision of Pentecost: Evidence of a Mind

The Acts 2 Pentecost events precisely coordinate with the Old Testament Pentecost (The Feast of Weeks). We know this since they occurred on the same day of the year.  The crucifixion of Jesus occurring on the Passover, the resurrection of Jesus occurring on FirstFruits, and the Acts 2 Pentecost occurring on the Feast of Weeks, points to a Mind coordinating these through history.  With so many days in a year why should the crucifixion of Jesus, his resurrection, and then the coming of the Holy Spirit happen precisely on each day of the three spring Old Testament festivals? Unless they were planned.  Precision like this happens only if a mind is behind it.

Events of New Testament occurred precisely on the three Spring Festivals of the Old Testament

Did Luke ‘make up’ Pentecost?

One might argue that Luke (the author of Acts) made up the Acts 2 events to ‘happen’ on the Feast of Pentecost. Then he would have been the ‘mind’ behind the timing. But his account does not say that Acts 2 is ‘fulfilling’ the Feast of Pentecost. It does not even mention it. Why go to such trouble of creating these dramatic events to ‘happen’ on that day but not help the reader see how it ‘fulfills’ the Feast of Pentecost?

In fact, Luke did such a good job of reporting events, rather than interpreting them, that most people today do not know that the events of Acts 2 fell on the same day as the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost.  Many people think that Pentecost simply began at Acts 2. Since most people today are not aware of the connection between them, Luke would be in the impossible situation of being a genius to invent the connection but utterly inept in selling it.

Pentecost: A New Power

The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit
Max Fürst (1846–1917), PD-US-expired, via Wikimedia Commons

Instead, Luke points us to a prophecy from the Old Testament book of Joel. This predicted that one day the Spirit of God would pour out on all peoples.  The Pentecost of Acts 2 fulfilled that.

One reason that the Gospel is ‘good news’ is that it provides power to live life differently – better. Life is now a union between God and people. And this union takes place through the indwelling of the Spirit of God – which began on the Pentecost Sunday of Acts 2.  The Good News is that we can now live life on a different level. We live it in a relationship with God through His Spirit. The Bible puts it like this:

And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.

Ephesian 1:13-14

The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

Romans 8:11

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

Romans 8:23

The indwelling Spirit of God is another firstfruits, because the Spirit is a foretaste – a guarantee – of completing our transformation into ‘children of God’.

The gospel offers an abundant life not through possessions, pleasure, status, wealth and all the other passing trifles pursued by this world. Solomon found these to be such an empty bubbles. But rather the abundant life comes by the indwelling of the Spirit of God.  If this is true – that God offers to indwell and empower us – that would be good news.  The Old Testament Pentecost with the celebration of fine bread baked with yeast pictured this coming abundant life.  The precision between the Old and New Pentecosts is perfect evidence that it is God who is the Mind behind this precision. Thus He stands behind this power of an abundant life.

The Resurrection of Jesus: Fact or Fiction?

In our modern, educated day, we sometimes wonder if traditional beliefs, especially ones about the Bible, are only out-dated superstitions.  The Bible recounts many incredible miracles. But probably the Good Friday and First-Fruits story of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead after his crucifixion seems the most unbelievable. 

Is Jesus Resurrected?
John Singleton Copley, PD-US-expired, via Wikimedia Commons

Is there any logical evidence to take this account of Jesus rising from the dead seriously?  Surprising to many, a strong case can be made that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened. And this comes from an argument based on historical data. It is based on evidence and reason, not on religious belief.

This question is worth careful investigation since it directly impacts our own lives. After all, we all will die, no matter how much money, education, health and other goals we achieve in life. If Jesus has defeated death then it gives a real hope in the face of our own approaching death.  Let’s look at the main historical data and the evidence for his resurrection.

The fact that Jesus existed and died a public death that has altered the course of history is certain. One need not look to the Bible to verify that. Secular history records several references to Jesus and the impact he made on the world of his day.

Let’s look at two.

Tacitus: Historical Reference to Jesus

The Roman governor-historian Tacitus referenced Jesus when recording how the Roman Emperor Nero executed 1st-century Christians (in CE 65). Nero blamed Christians for the burning of Rome and then proceeded with an extermination campaign against them. Here is what Tacitus wrote in 112 CE:

‘Nero.. punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius; but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also’

Tacitus. Annals XV. 44
Nero, the Roman emperor

Tacitus confirms that:

  1. Jesus was a historical person;
  2. He was executed by Pontius Pilate;
  3. By 65 CE (the time of Nero) the Christian faith had spread across the Mediterranean from Judea to Rome. Also, it had done so with such force that the Roman Emperor felt he had to deal with it.

Notice that Tacitus is saying these things as a hostile witness. We know this because he labels the movement that Jesus started as a ‘wicked superstition’. He opposes it but does not deny its historicity.

Josephus: Historical Reference to Jesus

Josephus was a first century CE Jewish military leader/historian writing to Romans. He summarized the history of the Jews from their beginning up to his time. In doing so. he also covered the time and career of Jesus with these words: 

‘At this time there was a wise man … Jesus. … good, and … virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned Him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that He had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that He was alive’

Josephus. 90 CE. Antiquities xviii. 33

Josephus confirms that:

  1. Jesus existed,
  2. He was a religious teacher,
  3. His disciples publicly proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. 

So it seems from these glimpses back into the past that the death of Jesus was a well-known event. Additionally, his disciples were publicly forcing the contention of his resurrection onto the Greco-Roman world. 

Historical Background from the Bible

Luke, a physician and historian provides further details as to how this faith advanced in the ancient world. Here is his excerpt from the book of Acts in the Bible: 

‘The priests and the captain … came up to Peter and John … They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead…They seized Peter and John… put them in jail…When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished… “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked.’

Acts 4: 1-16

‘Then the high priest and all his associates,… arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. …they were furious and wanted to put them to death….They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.’

Acts 5: 17-40
Apostles Arrested

We can see that the authorities went to great lengths to stop this new belief. These initial controversies and persecutions occurred in Jerusalem. This is the same city where only a few weeks earlier Jesus had been publicly executed and entombed. 

From this historical data, we can investigate the resurrection by weighing all the possible alternatives. Then we can decide which one makes the most sense. We do not have to prejudge by ‘faith’ any supernatural resurrection.

The body of Jesus and the Tomb 

We have only two alternatives concerning the body of the crucified and dead Jesus. Either the tomb was empty on that Easter Sunday morning or it still contained his body.  There are no other options. 

Let’s assume that his body remained in the tomb. As we reflect on the unfolding historical events, however, difficulties quickly arise.

Why would the Roman and Jewish leaders in Jerusalem have to take such extreme measures to stop stories of a resurrection if the body was still in the tomb?

All the historical sources we surveyed indicated hostility by the authorities to the claim of the resurrection. Yet this tomb lay right beside the disciples’ public proclamations of his rising from the dead in Jerusalem! If the body of Jesus was still in the tomb it would have been a simple matter for the authorities to parade Christ’s body in front of everyone. This would have discredited the fledgling movement without having to imprison, torture, and finally martyr them.

Jesus’ Tomb must have been empty

Consider further, thousands were converted to believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem at this time. Suppose you had been one of those in the crowds listening to Peter, wondering if his incredible message was believable. (After all, it came with persecution). Would you not have at least taken your lunch break to go to the tomb and take a look for yourself to see if the body was still there?

If the body of Christ was still in the tomb this movement would not have gained any followers in such a hostile environment with such incriminating counter evidence on-hand.

So Christ’s body remaining in the tomb leads to absurdities. It does not make sense. 

Did the disciples steal the body? 

Of course, there are other possible explanations for an empty tomb apart from a resurrection. However, any explanation for the body’s disappearance must also account for these details:  the Roman seal over the tomb, the Roman patrol guarding the tomb, the large (1-2 ton) stone covering the tomb entrance, and the 40 kg of embalming agent on the body. The list goes on. Space does not allow us to look at all factors and scenarios to explain the missing body. But the most contemplated explanation has always been that the disciples themselves stole the body from the tomb. Then they hid it somewhere and were able to mislead others. 

Assume this scenario. Avoid for the sake of argument some of the difficulties in explaining how the discouraged band of disciples who fled for their lives at his arrest could re-group and come up with a plan to steal the body. Three days after they fled at his arrest they planned and executed a most daring commando raid. They totally outwitted the Roman guard. They then broke the seal, moved the massive rock, and made off with the embalmed body. All this without suffering any casualties (since they all remained alive to become injury-free public witnesses shortly afterwards).  Assume that they successfully managed this and then they stepped onto the world stage to start a new faith based on their deception.

The Disciples Motivation: Their Belief in the Resurrection

Many of us today think that what motivated the disciples was the need to proclaim brotherhood and love among men. But look back to the account from both Luke and Josephus. You will note that the contentious issue was “the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead”. This theme is paramount in their writings. Notice how Paul, another apostle, rates the importance of Jesus’ resurrection: 

For … I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died …buried, that he was raised on the third day… he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.. If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless … your faith is futile…If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men…. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised – ‘Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die’… .

I Corinthians 15: 3-32 (57 CE) 

Who would die for what they knew was a lie?

Clearly, the disciples placed the importance of Jesus’ resurrection, and their witness of it, as central to their message.  Assume that this was really false. The disciples had really stolen the body from the tomb so the counter-evidence against their message could not expose them. They may then have successfully fooled the world. But they themselves, in their hearts and minds, would have known that what they were preaching, writing and creating great upheaval for was false. Yet they gave their lives (literally) for this mission. Why would they do it – IF they knew the basis for it was false?

People give themselves to causes because they believe in the cause for which they fight. Alternatively, they do so because they expect some benefit from the cause. If the disciples had stolen and hid the body, they of all people would know that the resurrection was false. Consider from their own words what price the disciples paid for the spreading of their message. Ask yourself if you would pay such a personal price for a cause that you knew to be false: 

The Personal Price Paid by the Disciples

We are hard pressed on every side… perplexed… persecuted, struck down… outwardly we are wasting away…in great endurance, in troubles, hardships, distresses, in beatings, imprisonments and riots, hard work, sleepless nights and hunger… beaten … sorrowful … poor … having nothing… ..Five times I received from the Jews the 39 lashes, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, … , I have been in danger from rivers, from bandits, my own countrymen, from Gentiles, in the city, in the country, in the sea. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep, I have known hunger and thirst… I have been cold and naked… Who is weak and I do not feel weak.

II Corinthians 4: 8– 6:10; 11:24-29 

The Heroic Courage of the Disciples – They must have believed it

The more I consider their unshrinking heroism over decades of suffering and persecution, the more I find it impossible that they did not sincerely believe their message. Not one disciple cracked at the bitter end and ‘confessed’ to avoid execution. None of them gained any worldly advantage from their messages, like wealth, power, and easy life. That all of them could so steadfastly and publicly maintain their message for so long demonstrates that they believed it. They held it as an unassailable conviction. But if they believed it they certainly could not have stolen and disposed of Jesus’ body. A renowned criminal lawyer, who taught law students at Harvard how to probe for weaknesses in witnesses, had this to say about the disciples:

“The annals of military warfare afford scarcely an example of the like heroic constancy, patience, and unflinching courage. They had every possible motive to review carefully the grounds of their faith, and the evidences of the great facts and truths which they asserted”

Greenleaf. 1874. An examination of the Testimony of the Four Evangelists by the Rules of Evidence Administered in the Courts of Justice. p.29 

… Compared against historical silence of those in power

Related to this is the silence of the authorities – Jewish and Roman. These hostile witnesses never seriously attempted to tell the ‘real’ story, or show how the disciples were wrong. As Dr. Montgomery states, 

“This underscores the reliability of testimony to Christ’s resurrection which was presented contemporaneously in the synagogues – in the very teeth of opposition, among hostile cross-examiners who would certainly have destroyed the case … had the facts been otherwise”

Montgomery, 1975. Legal Reasoning and Christian Apologetics. p88-89
Jesus is Resurrected!

We do not have the space to consider every facet of this question. However, the unwavering boldness of the disciples and the silence of the contemporaneous hostile authorities speak volumes that there is a case for Christ having risen. This is worth taking a serious and thoughtful examination.  One way to do so is to understand it in its Biblical context. A great place to start are the Signs of Abraham as well as Moses. Though they lived over a thousand years before Jesus, they prophetically foretold his death and resurrection.  Isaiah also prophesied the resurrection 750 years before it happened.

Is the Bible textually Reliable? Or has it been corrupted?

Textual Criticism and the Bible

Ancient Bible Manuscripts

In our scientific and educated age, we question many of the non-scientific beliefs that earlier generations had.  This skepticism is especially true of the Bible.  Many of us question the reliability of the Bible from what we know about it.  After all, the Bible was written more than two thousand years ago.  But for most of these millennia, there has been no printing press, photocopy machines or publishing companies.  So the original manuscripts were copied by hand, generation after generation. Concurrently, languages died out and new ones arose, empires changed and new powers ascended. 

Since the original manuscripts have long been lost, how do we know that what we read today in the Bible is what the original authors actually wrote?  Perhaps the Bible was changed or corrupted. Maybe church leaders, priests, bishops, or monks did so because they wished to change its message for their purposes.

Principles of Textual Criticism

Naturally, this question is true of any ancient writing.  Textual Criticism is the academic discipline of determining whether an ancient text has changed from its original composition until today. Because it is an academic discipline it applies to any ancient writing from any language.  This article explains some basic principles of Textual Criticism and applies them to the Bible to determine its reliability.

This diagram shows an example of a hypothetical document written 500 BCE. The original text did not last long. So before it decays, is lost, or destroyed, a manuscript (MSS) copy of it must be made (1st copy). A professional class of people called scribes did the copying. As the years advance, scribes make copies (2nd & 3rd copy) of the 1st copy. At some point a copy is preserved so that it exists today (the 3rd copy).

Timeline of our example document

Principle 1: Manuscript Time Intervals

In our example diagram, scribes produced this extant copy in 500 CE. So this means that the earliest that we can know of the state of the text is only after 500 CE. Therefore the time from 500 BCE to 500 CE (labeled x in the diagram) forms the period of textual uncertainty. Even though the original was written long before, all manuscripts before 500 CE have vanished. Therefore we cannot evaluate copies from this period.

Thus, the first principle used in textual criticism is to measure this time interval.  The shorter this interval x, the more confidence we can place in the correct preservation of the document to our time, since the period of uncertainty is reduced.

Principle 2: The number of existing manuscripts

The second principle used in Textual criticism is to count the number of existing manuscripts today. Our example illustration above showed that only one manuscript is available (the 3rd copy). But usually, more than one manuscript copy exists today. The more manuscripts in existence in the present day, the better the manuscript data. Then historians can compare copies against other copies to see if and how much these copies deviate from each other. So the number of manuscript copies available becomes the second indicator determining the textual reliability of ancient writings.

Textual Criticism of Classical Greco-Roman writings compared to New Testament

These principles apply to any ancient writings. So let us now compare New Testament manuscripts with other ancient manuscripts that scholars accept as reliable. This Table lists some well-known ones…

AuthorWhen WrittenEarliest CopyTime Span
Caesar50 BC900 AD95010
Plato350 BC900 AD12507
Aristotle*300 BC1100 AD14005
Thucydides400 BC900 AD13008
Herodotus400 BC900 AD13008
Sophocles400 BC1000 AD1400100
Tacitus100 AD1100 AD100020
Pliny100 AD850 AD7507
Manuscript data of well-known ancient writers accepted as reliable
McDowell, J. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. 1979. p. 42-48

*from any one work

These writers represent the major classical writers of antiquity. Basically, their writings shaped the development of European and Western civilization.  But on average, they have been passed down to us by only 10-100 manuscripts. Moreover, the earliest existing copies are preserved starting about 1000 years after the original was written.   We treat these as our control experiment since they comprise writings that form the foundation of history and philosophy. So academics and universities world-wide accept, use and teach them.

New Testament Manuscripts

The following table compares the New Testament manuscripts along the same principles of Textual Criticism. Then we will compare this to our control data, just like in any scientific investigation.

MSSWhen WrittenDate of MSSTime Span
John Rylan90 CE130 CE 40 yrs
Bodmer Papyrus90 CE 150-200 CE 110 yrs
Chester  Beatty50-60 CE 200 CE 20 yrs
Codex Vaticanus50-90 CE 325 CE 265 yrs
Codex Sinaiticus50-90 CE 350 CE 290 yrs
Textual Data of the earliest New Testament manuscripts
Comfort, P.W. The Origin of  the Bible, 1992. p. 193
Old Bible Manuscript

However, this table gives just a brief highlight of some of the existing New Testament manuscripts.  The number of New Testament manuscripts is so vast that it would be impossible to list them in one table. 

Testimony of the Scholarship

As one scholar who spent years studying this issue states:

“We have more than 24000 MSS copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today… No other document of antiquity even begins to approach such numbers and attestation.  In comparison, the ILIAD by Homer is second with 643 MSS that still survive”

McDowell, J. Evidence That Demands a Verdict. 1979. p. 40

A leading scholar at the British Museum corroborates this:

“Scholars are satisfied that they possess substantially the true text of the principal Greek and Roman writers … yet our knowledge of their writings depends on a mere handful of MSS whereas the MSS of the N.T. are counted by … thousands”

Kenyon, F.G. (former director of British Museum) Our Bible and the Ancient Manuscripts. 1941 p.23

This data pertains specifically to the New Testament manuscripts. This article looks at Textual Criticism of the Old Testament.

New Testament Textual Criticism and Constantine

Significantly, a large number of these manuscripts are extremely ancient.  For example, consider the introduction of the book transcribing the earliest Greek New Testament documents. 

“This book provides transcriptions of 69 of the earliest New Testament manuscripts…dated from early 2nd century to beginning of the 4th (100-300AD) … containing about 2/3 of the new Testament text”

Comfort, P.W. “The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts”. p. 17. 2001

This is significant because these manuscripts come before Roman Emperor Constantine (ca 325 CE). They also precede the rise to power of the Catholic Church. Some wonder whether either Constantine or the Catholic Church altered the biblical text. We can test this by comparing the manuscripts from before Constantine (325 CE) with those coming later. However, we find that they have not changed. The manuscripts from, say 200 CE, are the same as those that come later.

Thus, neither the Catholic Church nor Constantine changed the Bible. This is not a religious statement but is based solely on the manuscript data. The figure below illustrates the timeline of manuscripts from which today’s New Testament comes from.

New Testament manuscripts from which modern Bibles derive
University presentation on Textual Criticism of New Testament

Implications of Bible Textual Criticism

So what can we conclude from this?  Certainly, at least in what we can objectively measure, the New Testament is verified to a much higher degree than any other classical work.  The verdict can be best summed up by the following:

“To be skeptical of the resultant text of the New Testament is to allow all of classical antiquity to slip into obscurity, for no other documents of the ancient period are as well attested bibliographically as the New Testament”

Montgomery, History and Christianity. 1971. p.29

What he means is that if we doubt the reliability of the Bible’s preservation, we should discard all that we know about classical history. Yet no informed historian has ever done so.  We know that the Biblical texts have not been altered as eras, languages and empires have come and gone. We know this because the earliest existing manuscripts precede these events.  For example, we know that no overly zealous medieval monk, or plotting pope, added in the miracles of Jesus to the Bible. We have manuscripts that come before all medieval monks and popes. Since all these early manuscripts contain Jesus’ miracles then these imaginary medieval conspirators could not have inserted them.

What about translation of the Bible?

But what about the errors involved in translation? Why are there so many different versions of the Bible today? Do the existence of many versions mean that it is impossible to determine what the original authors wrote?

The Bible is translated into many different languages

First, let us clear up a common misconception.  Many think that the Bible today has gone through a long series of translation steps. They imagine each new language translated from the previous one. So they visualize a series something like this:  Greek -> Latin -> Medieval English -> Shakespeare English -> modern English -> other modern languages. 

Linguists translate the Bible into diverse languages today directly from its original languages. So for the New Testament, the translation proceeds to Greek -> modern language. For the Old Testament, the translation proceeds to Hebrew -> modern language (further details including Orthodox translations here). But the base Greek and Hebrew text is standard. So the different Bible versions come from how linguists choose to translate them into the modern language.

Translation Reliability

Due to the vast classical literature that was written in Greek (the original language of the New Testament), it is possible to precisely translate the original thoughts and words of the original authors. In fact, the different modern versions attest to this. For example, read this well-known verse in the most common versions, and note the slight variance in wording, but consistency in idea and meaning:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 (New International Version)

For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 (New American Standard Version)

For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 (New Living Translation)

You can see that there is no disagreement between the translations because they say exactly the same thing using only slightly different words.


To summarize, neither time nor translation has corrupted the ideas and thoughts expressed in the original Bible manuscripts. These ideas are not hidden from us today.  We know that the Bible today accurately communicates what its authors actually wrote back then.

But it is important to realize what this study does not show.  This does not necessarily prove that the Bible is the Word of God. 

Textual Criticism of Old Testament

But understanding the textual reliability of the Bible provides a start-point from which we can start investigating the Bible. We can see if these other questions can also be answered. We can also become informed about its message.  Since the Bible claims that its message is God’s blessing to you, what if it is possibly true?  Perhaps it is worth taking the time to learn some of the important events of the Bible.  A good place to start is in its beginning.

How were details of Christ’s death prophesied?

Christ’s “cut off” Detailed Hundreds of Years Beforehand

Previously we looked at Daniel’s prediction of the coming Christ’s ‘cutting off’ after a specified cycle of years. Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem (often called Palm Sunday) fulfilled Daniel’s prophecy exactly 173,880 days after the Persian Decree to restore Jerusalem. The phrase ‘cut off ’ referred to Isaiah’s imagery of the Branch shooting up from the seemingly dead stump. But what did he mean by it?

Isaiah and Daniel shown in historical timeline.

Isaiah had also written other prophecies in his book, using other themes as well as the Branch. One such theme was about the coming Servant. Who was this ‘Servant’? What was he going to do? We look at one prophecy passage in detail, reproduced in full below, with only some comments inserted.

The Coming Servant Introduced

See, my servant will act wisely;
    he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
14 Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
    his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
    and his form marred beyond human likeness—
15 so he will sprinkle many nations,
    and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
    and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Isaiah 52: 13-15

Isaiah describes a human male since he refers to the Servant as ‘he’, ‘him’, and ‘his’. Isaiah prophetically predicts the future (from the phrases ‘will act..’, ‘will be raised up…’). But what was the prophecy about?

Sprinkling – The Priest’s Job

When the ancient Temple priests offered sacrifices for the Israelites, they sprinkled blood on them. This symbolized the forgiving and covering of their sins. But Isaiah prophesied that the coming Servant would sprinkle ‘many nations’. So Isaiah saw that this Servant would provide forgiveness for non-Jews like those priests did for the Jewish worshipers. This is parallel to the prophecy that the Branch would be a priest since only priests could sprinkle blood. This global scope of ‘many nations’ follows those promises made centuries earlier to Abraham that ‘all nations’ would be blessed through him.

But in sprinkling the many nations, Isaiah foresaw the very ‘appearance’ and ‘form’ of the Servant disfigured and marred. He promised that one day the nations ‘will understand’.

The Servant Despised

Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Isaiah 53:1-3
Jesus Suffered Rejection

Though the Servant would sprinkle many nations, he would also be ‘despised’ and ‘rejected’, full of ‘suffering’ and ‘familiar with pain’.

The Servant Pierced

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed. 

Isaiah 53:4-5
Jesus’ Pierced Hands

The Servant would take ‘our’ pain. ‘Pierced’ and ‘crushed’ in ‘punishment’ would also be his lot. This punishment will bring us (those of the many nations) ‘peace’ and healing.

Secular and biblical sources tell us that about 2000 years ago (but still 700+ years after Isaiah) Jesus was crucified. In that execution, the authorities literally pierced him with the nails of the crucifixion.

Our Sins – on Him

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. 

Isaiah 53:6

The Bible defines sin as ‘missing the intended target’. Like a bent arrow we go our ‘own way’.  This Servant will carry that sin (iniquity) which we caused.

Lamb to the Slaughter

He was oppressed and afflicted,
    yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
    and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
    so he did not open his mouth. 

Isaiah 53:7

The Servant will be like a lamb going to the ‘slaughter’. But he will not protest or even ‘open his mouth’. Abraham had a ram substitute for his son and Abraham sacrificed the ram in place of Isaac. This coming Servant would carry a similar role as that ram.

‘Cut off’ from Living

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
    Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
    for the transgression of my people he was punished.

Isaiah 53:8

The Servant dies (‘cut off’ from the ‘land of the living’). Daniel used this exact term (‘cut off’) in prophesying what would happen to the Christ after his presentation as Messiah. Isaiah here predicted in greater detail that ‘cut off’ meant ‘cut off from the land of the living’!  So, on that fateful Good Friday Jesus died, literally ‘cut off from the land of the living’. This occurred just after he presented himself as the Christ in his Triumphant entry.

The Paradox of His Burial

Jesus buried in a rich man’s Tomb

He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
    and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
    nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Isaiah 53:9

They executed Jesus as a criminal (‘assigned a grave with the wicked’). But the gospels record how a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, buried the body of Jesus in his own tomb. Jesus literally fulfilled both sides of the paradox. Though he was ‘assigned a grave with the wicked’, he was also ‘with the rich in his death’.

God’s Plan all along

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
    and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
    and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

Isaiah 53:10
God’s will was for Jesus to die

This whole cruel death was not some terrible accident or misfortune. It was explicitly “the LORD’s will” to crush him.

But why?

Jews in Isaiah’s time brought lambs to sacrifice as offerings for their sins, so that they could receive forgiveness. So here the ‘life’ of this Servant would likewise also be an ‘offering for sin’.

For whose sin?

Considering that ‘many nations’ would be ‘sprinkled’ (see above), it is the sin of the peoples in the ‘many nations’. Those ‘all’ who have ‘turned away’ and have ‘gone astray’. Isaiah is talking about you and me.

Life after Death

After he has suffered,
    he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
    and he will bear their iniquities.

Isaiah 53:11
Jesus is Risen

Though the Servant’s ordeal is horrible, here the tone changes to optimism and triumph. After the terrible suffering detailed previously, this Servant will see ‘the light of life’.

He will come back to life?!

Isaiah prophesied the seemingly impossible 750 years before Jesus made the case for his resurrection compelling.

And in so ‘seeing the light of life’ this Servant will ‘justify’ many. To ‘justify’ is the same as giving ‘righteousness’. God had set the pattern by previously ‘crediting righteousness’ to Abraham. In a similar way this Servant will justify, or credit, righteousness to ‘many’.

Legacy among the Great

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
    and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
    and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
    and made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 53:12

Jesus of Nazareth ranks among the most influential, great people in history. But, unlike other great men of history, Jesus did not lead a mighty army or conquer large swaths of land. He did not write a great book or come up with a new philosophy. He did not amass a great fortune or make a brilliant scientific discovery or technological breakthrough. Unlike other great men of history, Jesus made his legacy through his crucifixion and the meaning people attach to his death. Isaiah could not have better predicted the reason for the coming Servant’s worldwide legacy than he did with this conclusion.

Fingerprints of God’s handiwork

Isaiah’s prophecy of the Servant points directly to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore some critics say that the gospel writers made up their story specifically to ‘fit’ this Servant passage. But Isaiah’s conclusion also defies these critics. The conclusion is not a prediction of the crucifixion and resurrection as such, but of its impact many years later. And what does Isaiah predict? This Servant will die as a criminal, but one day he will be among the ‘great’. The gospel writers could not make this part ‘fit’ the gospel narratives. The gospels were only written a few decades after Jesus’ crucifixion. At that point, the impact of Jesus’ death was doubtful.

In the eyes of the world, Jesus was just the executed leader of a rejected cult when the gospels were written.  We, 2000 years later, can see the impact of his death. We can understand how the subsequent course of history has made him ‘great’. With simple human foresight the gospel writers could not have foreseen that.

But 750 years before Jesus even lived Isaiah predicted it. Likewise, David did something very similar 1000 years before Jesus in Psalm 22.

The only explanation is that God revealed it to him. Only God could conceivably know the future that far ahead. That Isaiah wrote this down, and that it was preserved, along with the other prophecies of Jesus, constitutes evidence that the purposes advanced in the Bible are His. It has the fingerprints of the Divine handiwork all over it.