“O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23).
“There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 16:25).
Only one government, only one administration of laws and judgment can be fairly executed with perfect impartiality: the kingdom of God, which is the supreme government of God ruled and administered by Jesus Christ and those who will have qualified, in this lifetime, to rule under Him.
Upon His First Coming, Jesus was to live a perfect, sinless life as a flesh-and-blood human being, thus becoming the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world. And Christ was to use His earthly ministry to preach the gospel—good news—of the kingdom of God, for which He had to qualify, represent the kingdom to the masses, and then build His Church of future leaders and teachers for when God’s government would be established to rule all nations.
The world of professing Christianity—of which the overwhelming majority has been saturated with pagan symbols, beliefs, customs and traditions, which Jesus called,
“the commandments” and “tradition of men” (Mark 7:6-9)
—focuses also exclusively on Jesus’ role as Savior, yet does not comprehend the magnitude of, and therefore ignores, Christ’s other pivotal role: that of conquering King of God’s soon-coming government.
Jesus was born into an ancient world of tyranny and political upheaval, widespread religious confusion and superstition, social injustices, pagan cultural influences and endless philosophies. God chose the precise timing of Jesus’ First Coming for a specific purpose, which this chapter will make clear.
Let’s get the “big picture” of the world into which Jesus was born. We will start with a brief history of Palestine.
Back in the time of Moses, God delivered the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt and brought them into Canaan, the Promised Land. Nearly all people think the Jews and Israelites were the same. In reality, all Jews are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews. In fact, most are not. Similarly, all Pennsylvanians are Americans, but not all Americans are Pennsylvanians.
The nation of Israel consisted of 13 tribes, each of which had its own territory in the Promised Land (except for Levi, a tribe of priests and tabernacle workers, to whom God gave a certain number of cities, instead of farmland; these Levitical cities were scattered throughout Israel). From the time of Joshua, who succeeded Moses, to the reign of King Solomon, son of David and Israel’s third king, the 13 tribes were united in one kingdom.
But this changed soon after Solomon’s death. Ten of the tribes broke away and formed their own kingdom: the house of Israel, with Samaria as its capital. The remaining tribes—Judah, Benjamin and largely Levi, with remnants of Simeon and others—formed the house of Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem.
Both Israel and Judah had their own kings and their own religions, though Judah sometimes followed its sister nation’s proclivity to worship the false gods of the surrounding nations. At times, Israel and Judah were at war—in fact, the first time the phrase “the Jews” is mentioned in Scripture, God’s Word records that the Israelites (allied with the Assyrians) were at war with them
Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war: and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him. 16:6: At that time Rezin king of Syria recovered Elath to Syria, and drave the Jews from Elath: and the Syrians came to Elath, and dwelt there unto this day. (II Kings 16:5-6).
At other times, Israel and Judah either worked together toward a common goal, or stayed out of each other’s affairs altogether. They were separate nations, yet the peoples of both kingdoms were Israelites.
After centuries of tolerating an endless cycle of national obedience, then disobedience, followed by divine punishment, in turn followed by repentance, back to obedience, and then disobedience, God’s patience wore out. He used the ancient Assyrians—an empire infamous for waging war and committing the severest acts of brutality—to invade and conquer the house of Israel. The Assyrians enslaved Israel and deported the people en masse to Assyria and other foreign lands. The ten tribes of Israel lost their national identity and melted into the pages of history. To this day, their modern descendants mistakenly believe they are Gentiles, not realizing that the abundant national wealth, prosperity and international influence they have long enjoyed are the result of God fulfilling His promise to Abraham
And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. 17:2: And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. 17:3: And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, 17:4: As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. 17:5: Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. 17:6: And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. 17:7: And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. 17:8: And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. (Gen. 17:1-8).
For the most part, the house of Judah did not learn the lesson of Israel’s spiritual unfaithfulness. The ancient Jews went back and forth, from worshipping God to serving idols, and back again. Theirs was a religious mixture of seemingly pious worship toward the Creator, yet underneath the façade was every abomination imaginable. It was religious hypocrisy and self-righteousness at its worst.
And so, 134 years after the overthrow of the kingdom of Israel, God sent a special punishing tool for Judah: Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian Empire. In 587 B.C., the Babylonians overthrew Jerusalem, plundered Solomon’s Temple—originally a grand house of worship for the true God—and carried the people into captivity to Babylon, where the Jews remained for the next 70 years.
They were eventually permitted to return to their homeland and rebuild a second Temple at Jerusalem
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, 1:2: Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 1:3: Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. 1:4: And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:1-4).
After this restoration period, the Jews were ruled by Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah, and then by high priests, assisted by the Sanhedrin (a council of priests, scribes and elders).
Upon his death in 323 B.C., Alexander the Great’s vast empire was divided between his four generals. Egypt, Arabia, Palestine (formerly Canaan) and Coele-Syria came to be controlled by Ptolemy Lagus, who carried away nearly 100,000 of Jerusalem’s inhabitants into Egypt. Though Ptolemy allowed the Jews certain privileges, they suffered cruelty and oppression from Ptolemy’s successors, and later from the successive rulers of Syria. This led to a revolt under the Maccabees (163 B.C.), who reclaimed Jerusalem and the Second Temple (which the Hellenistic Syrians used to worship Zeus), and eventually gained national independence for the Jews.
But their national freedom and self-government came to an end in 68 B.C., when Pompey the Great seized Palestine and turned it into a province of the burgeoning Roman Empire. About 25 years later, the Jews revolted against the Roman yoke, only to be taken over by Herod the Great, who served Rome. At around 20 B.C., Herod began a mass renovation project, rebuilding Jerusalem and restoring and expanding the Temple. Under Herod’s rule and with Rome’s approval, Palestine was divided into four provinces: Judea (in the south), Samaria (in the middle region), Galilee (the north) and Perea (which lay east of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea).
By the time Jesus was born, the Roman Empire dominated nearly all the lands that bordered the Mediterranean Sea. As the empire continued to conquer territories and expand its borders over the generations, the Jews spread throughout the Roman and Parthian empires.
Rome had legions stationed in Syria, which were sent to Judea to squash a revolt against the Herodians that arose upon the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C. As he had done with Herod, Augustus Caesar decided to control Palestine through a client king, a ruler who maintained order at his own personal expense. However, instead of having just one king over such a large territory, the emperor divided the province into regions among Herod’s surviving sons. Archelaus, the heir, received rulership over Judea, Samaria and Idumaea; however, Augustus removed him from power in A.D. 6, and transformed Judea into a larger Roman province, called Iudaea, coming under direct Roman rule.
Rome’s influence was felt throughout Palestine. Roman troops were garrisoned in Jerusalem and in other parts of the region. The people were heavily taxed. And with the empire came the spread of the Greek language and culture (plays, epic poems and philosophies pondering ethics, morality, the nature of reality, of God, and other thoughts of human reasoning). The empire consisted of peoples of foreign cultures, religions and languages who spoke and wrote Greek, akin to the way English is used today as an unofficial international language.
While Rome was quick to squash even the hint of rebellion and did not hesitate to use oppression to achieve its goals, Roman officials did permit the Jewish peoples certain liberties. For example, while inhabitants of other provinces served in their auxiliary forces, the Jews did not. And instead of having to participate in the imperial cult—the worship of dead emperors—the Jews were allowed to substitute a daily sacrifice in the Temple on behalf of the emperor and the Romans.
Nevertheless, Rome did on occasion try to introduce images of its emperors in Jerusalem—even in the Temple. These attempts were always met with staunch resistance, fueled by religious fervor. Though they disagreed among themselves religiously, socially and politically, the Jews were determined to honor no other deity but the God of the Torah.
Ironically, the God they claimed to fear and worship was born among them—Jesus Christ—but they rejected Him and His teachings.
Among the inhabitants of Palestine were the Samaritans. When the Assyrian Empire conquered the house of Israel and deported them from Samaria, Assyria replaced the ten tribes with a mixed group of foreigners brought in from Babylon and other faraway lands. This mixed group settled into the largely empty cities of Samaria and racially integrated with the remnant of Israelites who still lived in the land. The inhabitants—who came to be called Samaritans—largely adopted a pseudo-religion, mixing the Old Testament practices of worshipping Israel’s God with the spiritual poison of pagan customs and traditions.
The Jews, upon returning to their homeland after being exiled in Babylon, refused the Samaritans’ offer of help in rebuilding the Temple. Subsequently, hostility arose between the two, with the Samaritans building a rival temple at Mount Gerizim (which was later destroyed), and then at Shechem. Their bitter rivalry continued through the years, and was evident during Christ’s earthly ministry,
“for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).
In Old Testament times, Gentiles were simply viewed as non-Israelites, and were not particularly despised for not having descended from Jacob (Israel). In fact, as soon as God delivered to Israel the Ten Commandments, He also proclaimed statutes—laws that expounded upon the commandments in addressing various areas of life. Among these, God instructed His people,
“You shall neither vex a stranger [foreigner], nor oppress him” (Ex. 22:21)
“you shall not oppress a stranger: for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex. 23:9).
As long as foreigners lived peaceably among the Israelites, were willing to observe God’s laws, and rejected the worship of idols and other pagan practices, God expected His people to treat the “strangers” among them with equity and justice.
However, after having suffered the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, seven decades of Babylonian exile, then ongoing persecution from foreigners who wanted to blot out their religion and Hellenize them, the Jews came to use the term “Gentile” with contempt. By New Testament times, they saw Gentiles as religiously unclean—therefore, it was considered wrong to associate or be friends with them. While Gentiles could become proselytes of the Judaic faith, they could not be full members. Consequently, there was no love lost among the Greeks and Romans for the Jewish peoples.
Herod the Great was a morally corrupt and ruthless client king for Rome, who did not hesitate to murder any enemies (both real and perceived) he thought might threaten his reign. He even had members of his own family put to death. This is the Herod who, in an effort to kill the Christ Child,
“slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under” (Matt. 2:16).
Herod was widely despised all throughout his 37 years of rule—and long after his death.
On the other hand, the Jews (begrudgingly) appreciated the ambitious public works projects he initiated throughout Palestine, such as the great amphitheater in Caesarea and his refurbishing of Jerusalem’s Second Temple, expanding it on a monumental scale. This grand renovation project, which was to rival the greatest manmade wonders of the world, started in 20 B.C. and lasted more than 80 years.
Eight decades of building the Temple served to grow the local economy, as it employed workmen from construction and artisan guilds. It also served to unify the people in worshipping God (as opposed to the Greeks, Romans and other Gentiles honoring hundreds of idols and other false gods).
Yet the Temple also polarized the Jews, who were divided along religious and sociopolitical lines.
“The building itself was very small. The actual building of the Temple could fit inside the infield of any baseball stadium. However, the large structure all around it, the large plaza, the porticos, the columns, the staircases, all of that, were built up by Herod the Great on a monumental scale, filling up, I think something like ten football fields…So we have then a very large, very conspicuous, grandiose, grand…structure in the center of Jerusalem which attracted pilgrims from near and far, both Jews and gentile” (“From Jesus to Christ,” PBS, Shaye I.D. Cohen, Samuel Ungerleider Professor of Judaic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies, Brown University).
The Temple was a center of constant activity. It was operated by priests, who roasted animal sacrifices, splattered blood on the corners of the altar, and performed other religious rituals. Gentiles were provided a reserved area where they could worship God and bring offerings, which Levitical priests offered on their behalf, but only the chief priest could enter the innermost areas of the Temple. The Levites, who assisted the priests, chanted verses from the book of Psalms. Every Sabbath, the Jews visited the Temple to listen to a reading of the Torah. Three seasons a year (Days of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost every spring, and the Feast of Tabernacles in the autumn), Jerusalem overflowed with visitors who had journeyed from the furthermost parts of the empire. Roman troops stationed in the region were brought in for crowd control and to maintain order. Hundreds of thousands of worshippers for Passover meant that tens of thousands of lambs needed to be properly selected and slaughtered. As a result, a rotation of extra priests was established.
“…the Temple played a large role in a collective religious mentality and a collective religion of the people, as a whole. Everybody realized that this was the one most sacred place on earth, the one place on earth where somehow heaven and earth meet, where somehow there is a telephone connection, perhaps we would say, between heaven and earth, where the earth rises up and heavens somehow descend just enough, that they just touch” (ibid.).
It should be briefly noted that three other Herods are mentioned in the Bible: Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa I and Herod Agrippa II. They are sometimes confused.
Herod Antipas, mentioned in Matthew 14 , Mark 6 and Luke 23, was one of the many sons of Herod the Great. He became tetrarch (local governor) over Galilee and Peraea, and ruled from about 4 B.C. until A.D. 39. This was the Herod who ordered John the Baptist to be beheaded at the insistence of Herodias his brother’s wife
For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife. 14:4:For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.
14:5: And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. 14:6: But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. 14:7: Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. 14:8: And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger. 14:9: And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. 14:10: And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. 14:11: And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. (Matt. 14:3-11).
He also mocked Christ during His trial
And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate. (Luke 23:11).
Herod Agrippa I (discussed in Acts 12) was the grandson of Herod the Great, and nephew of Herod Antipas. He ruled from 37 to 44 A.D. as king over the entire region. He gradually gained control over the area Herod the Great had previously ruled by scheming against his own relatives with help from Emperor Caligula, who actually freed him from prison to help him consolidate power. This Herod killed James, the brother of John, with the sword
And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. (Acts 12:2).
And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. Acts 12:23
reveals his death was caused by being eaten of worms.
Herod Agrippa II, mentioned in Acts 25 and 26, began his reign in A.D. 44 and continued for a number of decades (scholars disagree on the actual date of his death). This was the Herod before whom the apostle Paul made his defense in about A.D. 58. Of all the Herods, Agrippa II was the most humane.
Several competing religious and political factions existed among the Jewish peoples, with each movement, party or school of thought promoting its own agenda. The Bible mentions three major factions: the scribes and Pharisees, the Sadducees and (by implication) the Zealots.
• Scribes and Pharisees: The Pharisees were considered religious scholars and experts in meticulously observing and interpreting the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) and oral laws.
Working with them were the scribes. In the days of the Old Testament, scribes held various offices in conducting the kingdom’s public affairs. They served as secretaries of state, preparing and issuing decrees by the king’s authority. Scribes were also writers for important figures, such as a prophet. After the Babylonian exile, they wrote multiple copies of the Law that were used to teach the people in exile.
The scribes and the Pharisees added their traditions to God’s laws—their own interpretation of how to, in effect, be even more “righteous” toward God, attempting to avoid a repeat of suffering national captivity in foreign lands. Yet these manmade traditions needlessly burdened the people with exacting and extreme rules of “do’s” and “don’ts.”
In Mark, chapter 7, the scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus’ disciples for not ceremoniously washing their hands before eating:
“For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders” Mark 7:3.
When they questioned Christ about why His students “failed” to live up to tradition, He answered,
“Well has Isaiah prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. Howbeit in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men” Mark 7:6-8.
Jesus added that they made
“the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which you have delivered: and many such like things do you” Mark 7:13.
Throughout Matthew 23, Christ called the scribes and Pharisees “hypocrites, blind guides, fools and blind, serpents” and a “generation of vipers.” He said that, in meticulously focusing on the smaller matters of the Law, they
“have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone” Matthew 23:23.
Christ inspired the apostle James to write,
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (Jms. 1:27).
God’s Law is based on love—in fact, “he that loves another has fulfilled the law…therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom. 13:8, 10).
But the Pharisees and scribes—rather than teaching the people to love God and neighbor by observing the Law—sought to “improve” the laws of God by adding precise, black-and-white restrictions for virtually every scenario. These offered no room for mercy and forgiveness, only burden.
• Sadducees: Though also religious, the Sadducees were more like a sociopolitical party, consisting of aristocracy and priests who dominated the Sanhedrin, Jerusalem’s “supreme court,” or council. They observed only the Torah, and thus did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, as taught in the other books of the Old Testament. As priests, they were responsible for operating the Temple.
• Zealots: These were a radical sect of terrorist-subversives who originated with Judas the Galilean:
“After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed” (Acts 5:37).
The Zealots were devoted to ending Roman rule, and refused to pay tribute to Rome, staunchly believing this violated the principle that God was the only king of Israel. In rebelling against the Romans, the Zealots were scattered and became bandits roaming the remote countryside.
The Jews in the first centuries B.C. and A.D. were very familiar with Old Testament prophecies that describe a coming “Messianic Age” and looked forward to their fulfillment with eager expectation. They well understood that the Messiah would usher in a time unlike any other.
Under years of Roman occupation, the Jews expected the Christ to arrive and free them from Rome’s rule. Conditions for the common Jew were harsh. Peasants had to depend on crops for survival. Not only did they need enough to last until the next harvest, they also needed extra grain to seed the next round of crops, adequate food for their livestock, food to use in trading, and food for religious rituals and celebrations. Many found it difficult to meet these needs.
Making matters more difficult, the Roman government demanded more, taxing the peasants as much as 40% of what they produced. This was in addition to the 10% (tithe) they paid to the Temple. Many peasant families would borrow to survive, which often led to a loss of their land and becoming sharecroppers on the very land they had once owned.
However, not paying tribute was also an undesirable option, as the Roman government viewed this as rebellion and would not hesitate to use military force. On occasion, during times of war the Romans would also pull resources from those under their authority. They could demand additional food from the Jewish province to help other areas fight invaders.
All of this amounted to an impossible situation for the Jews. But the only options left were to (A) accept the oppression of the Romans, or (B) reject it and become enemies of the empire, which would lead to war.
Thus, the idea of one coming to end the tyranny became ever more present in the minds of most Jews. Conditions were ripe for the Christ’s arrival. This led to a number of self-proclaimed false christs rising up and convincing some they were in fact the long-awaited deliverer of Israel, leading insurrections against the Roman government. But they were nothing more than imposters, and all of them failed in their self-appointed missions.
It is in this Messiah-hopeful environment that Jesus was born, in 4 B.C. But it wasn’t until He reached the age of 30 that He began to preach to the masses, in 27 A.D. Over the course of His three-and-a-half-year ministry, only a tiny few believed His claim to being the long-awaited Christ.
Numerous times throughout His ministry, Jesus informed others that He was the Christ, though usually in a subtle fashion. Most rejected His claim, often citing Old Testament scriptures as proof He could not be the coming Messiah. This rejection generally stemmed from Jewish tradition or from misinterpreting the scriptures.
The first account of this is found in the book of Luke. Just after His baptism and being tempted by Satan in the wilderness for 40 days, Jesus entered a synagogue in Nazareth on the Sabbath and read from the book of Isaiah:
“And there was delivered unto Him the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:17-19).
When He finished reading these scriptures, Jesus sat down, with everyone in the synagogue looking curiously at Him. Then He said,
“This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21).
Those present were no doubt familiar with this prophecy in Isaiah, and that it was one the Christ would fulfill. The people in the synagogue marveled at His words, asking,
“Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22).
In other words, “How could Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a carpenter, possibly be the Christ? We have known Him since He was a little boy. This can’t be the Christ.” Jesus simply did not fit their profile of the Messiah.
A common thought was that the Christ would sort of “magically appear.” Many believed that, after His birth, Christ would hide Himself from the masses for a considerable amount of time. Thus when He would begin to preach, no one would know His background.
Notice John 7:27: “Howbeit we know this Man whence [from where] He is: but when Christ comes, no man knows whence [from where] He is.”
This thinking can be found in a common Jewish proverb of the time: “Three things come unexpectedly: (1) a thing found by chance; (2) the sting of a scorpion; and (3) the Messiah.” Since many knew Jesus’ parents and even knew Him as a boy, in their minds, He could not possibly be the Christ.
Consider in the book of John another example of why Jesus was rejected. There He explained that He would be “lifted up from the earth,” or crucified
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. John 12:32.
This idea of the Christ being executed in this manner perplexed some, as they believed the Messiah would live forever:
“We have heard out of the law that Christ abides for ever: and how say you, The Son of man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of man?”John 12:34.
The Old Testament, which was the only Scripture available during the time of Jesus, nowhere states that the Christ would not die. In reality, it clearly states the opposite, which we will soon see.
However, there are prophecies that show the Christ’s reign—and His kingdom—will endure forever, as found in Daniel chapter 7:
“And there was given Him [the Christ] dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” Daniel 7:14.
Many read these and other scriptures and correctly noticed that the Messiah’s kingdom was to last forever. They then concluded that, once He appeared, He could not possibly die. To them, His death would appear to directly contradict God’s Word.
Yet Jesus’ death did not conflict with Scripture. In fact, it was clearly foretold! Perhaps more than any other series of verses, the 53rd chapter of Isaiah unmistakably identifies that the Christ was to be killed—and for a reason.
The chapter opens by asking, “Who has believed our report?” Certainly few have believed what God has spoken through the prophets, and ancient Israel had a track record of not heeding their words. It is fitting that this chapter on the Christ opens with this question, as many have not believed this report.
describes there would be nothing significant about the Christ’s appearance. He would look quite ordinary (as we saw earlier), and there would be nothing beautiful about Him .Isaiah 53:33 indicates He would be despised and rejected, and would not be noted as having any value. These verses have been confirmed by history. Jesus was not of noble appearance and was despised and rejected—to the point of being executed.
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities:
the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. 53:6: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:5-6
explain exactly why the Christ, as Savior, had to suffer:
“He was wounded for our transgressions [sins], He was bruised for our iniquities [sins]: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity [sin] of us all.”
Before coming as a conquering King (upon His Second Coming), the Christ had to first take mankind’s sins—both physical and spiritual—upon Himself (at His First Coming). This happened when Jesus was severely beaten (“wounded for our transgressions” and “bruised for our iniquities”) and crucified. And right before dying on the stake, the Father forsook Jesus
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matt. 27:46),
as at that point He took on the sins of humanity, and thus was counted as sin—of which the Father can have no part.
Amazingly, Jesus was viewed by the Jews as having been rejected by God because He was not the Christ. They counted Him as cursed and afflicted by God because of what He did—what He taught. The people did not comprehend that Jesus’ death was necessary. Notice:
“Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” Isaiah 53:4
The reality was that
“it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief” for “an offering for sin” Isaiah 53:10.
“He [the Father] shall see of the travail of His [the Christ’s] soul, and shall be satisfied: by His knowledge shall My righteous Servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities” Isaiah 53:11.
God was pleased to bruise Jesus Christ because it was a necessary part of His overall plan for mankind. If this had not happened, man would have no hope of salvation.
The chapter concludes,
“Therefore will I [the Father] divide Him [Jesus Christ] a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong; because He has poured out His soul unto death: and He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” Isaiah 53:12
Because Jesus was willing to bear “the sin of many,” the Father will provide Him an everlasting kingdom—a divine government that will bring true justice and world peace. Clearly, however, this government has not arrived. This is perhaps the major reason many rejected Jesus as the Christ.
In the eyes of the first-century Jews, Jesus failed to accomplish what they expected the Christ to do—destroy every evil, as well as all of their enemies (the Romans), and establish an eternal kingdom, with Israel as the preeminent nation in the world. The Jews believed that the Christ would deliver them from Roman bondage and set up a kingdom where they would be the rulers. Although they could read the prophecies in Isaiah describing a suffering Christ who would be persecuted and executed, they instead chose to focus on prophecies addressing His glorious victories and time of world peace, accompanying many of them. Since Jesus did not at that time come as the long-awaited conquering King, He was rejected. He “failed” to live up to the people’s expectations of the Messiah. As stated in John chapter 1,
“He came unto His own [people], and His own received Him not” John 1:11
To this day, followers of Judaism reject Jesus as the Christ, citing similar reasons as their first-century counterparts.
In the volatile environment of Roman tyranny, religious hypocrisy, turmoil and falsehood, pagan influences of culture, philosophies and religions, racial tensions and rampant injustice, God chose to have His Son born into the world.
During His three-and-a-half-year ministry, Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom of God to the masses, and taught a core group of disciples who would go on to become apostles, but also evangelists and other ministers, as well as deacons and deaconesses, along with many faithful, diligent lay members who formed the Church of God. Through His ministers, Christ’s gospel would be spread from city to city, across regions and provinces throughout the Roman Empire.
Rome forbade the emergence of new religions under its rule. But to non-Jews, who worshipped many “gods,” Christianity and Judaism seemed the same. The Jewish peoples had migrated and settled in Gentile areas across the ever-expanding empire; therefore, Roman provinces had grown accustomed to having citizens among them who worshipped only one God. By the time Rome realized that Christianity and Judaism were different, it was too late—Christians could be found living in the emperor’s household.
Suppose the Messiah had appeared during a time when the Mediterranean world was divided into separate, independent kingdoms, each with its own ruler. In such a scenario, the gospel would have gone no farther than Judea. Gentile kingdoms would have shut their borders to a religion that teaches that the governments, systems, societies and religions of men will be replaced by the divine government of God!
But the Roman Empire, to satisfy the peoples they subjugated, permitted their subjects to continue worshipping the endless gods of their particular lands, as long as this did not interfere with Roman affairs or supplant loyalty to the emperor.
Also, Rome interconnected the kingdoms they conquered with highways that still exist today—roads that Christ’s apostles, ministers and other servants used to spread the true gospel and establish congregations in city after city.
The timing of Jesus Christ’s First Coming—which led to establishing the small, but faithful, Church that survived the past 2,000 years and now preaches to all nations the same gospel message Christ taught—was perfect.