Regarding Jewish History
Jewish history actually began in Genesis chapter 12 when God called an idolater named Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees and separated and set apart this man and his wife from other nations. In fulfillment of a promise made to him by God, Abraham begat one son by his wife Sarah in his old age. The son’s name was Isaac. His other sons, born to Hagar and Keturah, were not partakers of the promise made to Abraham and Isaac. Isaac, in turn, fathered two sons named Esau and Jacob, of who only the younger, Jacob was chosen by God as recipient of His covenant made with Abraham and confirmed with Isaac. This Jacob, whose name was later changed by God to Israel, fathered twelve sons. These sons went on, through the Providence of God, to be the heads, the progenitors if you will, of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Speaking of Providence, it was through God’s Providence that Jacob and his sons migrated to Egypt to escape the ravages of famine. There in Egypt they grew from a large family into a nation of over two million people. After the passage of over four centuries, during which time their rapid growth took place, God raised up a deliverer named Moses who was used of God as a human leader to deliver the nation of Israel out of Egyptian bondage using great signs and miracles wrought by the power of God to accomplish the task.
Having escaped through the avenue of the parted Red Sea, Israel camped at the foot of Mount Sinai and received the Law. While Moses was receiving the Law on Mount Sinai the Israelites were violating the Law at the foot of Mount Sinai. Additionally, while on Mount Sinai, Moses received instructions for the building of the Tabernacle and the Ark, which for so many years would dominate the religious life of the people. After one year encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai the people removed to Kadesh Barnea under the leadership of Moses, where they rebelled at God’s command to enter the land of Canaan, the land that God had promised to give to the descendants of Abraham. For their lack of faith and rebellion, God allowed the children of Israel to wander in the wilderness of Sinai as the Shekinah glory of God led them for forty years, during which time all those over 20 years of age, all of those who participated in the rebellion, grew old and died outside the land of promise.
Once the new generation had entered the land and settled down a cycle of rebellion, retribution, repentance and restoration was repeated many, many times. This occurred during the times of the judges. Then Saul became the nation’s first king and he ruled over the nation for 40 years until his suicide during a battle against the Philistines ended his reign. David became Israel’s second king and brought her into a kind of Golden Age of power during his generally wise and godly reign over a 40 year period of time. It was this king that God promised an eternal throne over Israel to, called the Davidic Covenant by Bible scholars, which covenant promises that Israel’s king eternal must be of the lineage and house of David. Solomon was God’s choice to succeed David as king. After his 40 rein the incredible stupidity of his son Rehoboam resulted in civil war and the division of the nation. The nation of Israel to the north consisted primarily of the ten tribes to the north, while the southern nation which was dominated by the tribes of Judah and Benjamin adopted Judah as their national name. It was the nation of Judah that the Davidic dynasty continued to rule.
After having 19 wicked kings who led their nation into idolatry, and after having ignored the warnings of God’s prophets, and after having made a mockery of God’s Law, Israel was attacked, defeated and carried into captivity by the great and terrible Assyrian Empire in 726 B. C. Though Judah was on a spiritual slide, she had a number of very godly kings of the 19 she also had that caused God to put off divine punishment for another 120 years after the Assyrian attempt to subdue them. It was about 606 B. C., after centuries of patiently tolerating the sin of Judah, that God’s anger broke forth and Judah was defeated and her most talented citizens were carried, in three different waves, into Babylonian captivity by the ruthless Nebuchadnezzar. Years later, but still during the captivity, the Medo-Persian Empire overthrew the Babylonians and inherited charge over the Jewish captivity.
When the 70 years of God’s chastisement had transpired the Jews were given permission to return to Palestine, though most of the Jewish population in Babylon chose to remain in Babylon. For those back in Palestine there was the task of rebuilding the Temple, though not to its original splendor, and of rebuilding the wall surrounding Jerusalem. The rebuilt Temple is referred to as Zerubbabel’s Temple, in honor of the man who led the Jewish people back into their land and began to rebuild the Temple. It is approximately here that the Old Testament history of Israel ends. Dealing now with events predicted by Scripture and verified in secular history, before the New Testament times arrived, we see the Jewish people living under Persian rule until the explosive power of Alexander the Great comes on the scene and makes most of the known world a Greek speaking world.
After Alexander conquered the world he died, leaving four generals to divide his kingdom between them. The Jewish people in Palestine found themselves caught between the Seleucids of Asia Minor and the Ptolemaic rulers in Egypt, living in a land that was fought for and subject to intense persecution for their religious beliefs most of the time. During this period of time we also see the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids and temporary independence for the Jewish people. However, when the Romans conquered the Middle East they crushed all opposition that stood in their way. Once in the land the Romans maintained an iron-fisted control over the entire region and were bitterly despised by the Jewish people.
To aid their rule over stubborn Israel, which was now called Judea, Caesar appointed Herod the Great as king over Judea. This Idumean was a butcher, hated by the Jewish people for his depravity and the fact that he was a descendant of Esau and not Jewish, in spite of the fact that he rebuilt Zerubbabel’s Temple into a lavish Temple, called Herod’s Temple. It was this same Herod the Great who was king of Judea when the Lord Jesus Christ was born of a virgin in the little town of Bethlehem. It is approximately here that the New Testament account of the story of God’s plan of redemption resumes.
Regarding Jewish Institutions
Regardless of her spiritual condition, which was completely barren most of the time, from the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai onward, Israel was basically a theocracy. That is to say, God ruled over the nation, and her national institutions were, in the beginning anyway, brought into being by God directly or by a recognized man of God. Examples are numerous:
- Israel’s religion was the only religion ever given to men by God and was the rule of life for that nation.
- Israel’s monarchy was brought into existence by God and sovereignly ruled over by an omnipotent and wise God, as we shall clearly see in Matthew chapter 1 and Luke chapter 3, when we study the genealogies of Christ’s stepfather and mother.
- Israel’s school of the prophets was introduced by the great prophet Samuel, apparently to train men to be preachers of the Word of God, in an effort to bring the nation back to God. How long the school of the prophets lasted in Jewish history is not known.
When the Temple was destroyed by conquering Babylonian armies six centuries before the birth of Christ, and when the descendent of David was deposed as king, Jewish life in the political and religious realms was totally disrupted and destroyed. With the deportation of the people to a foreign land the people began to forget their original Hebrew tongue and began speaking the local language called Aramaic, the language of their captors, the Babylonians.
Additionally, with intermarriage with Gentiles occurring and the destruction of the genealogical records that were stored in the original Temple, information related to the Aaronic priesthood, such as who was qualified to be a priest, who was the next in line to be the high priest, etc., was thrown into disarray. To compensate for such chaos in their national identity and to preserve things dear to them, the following adaptations were made:
- During the seventy years of captivity synagogues came into existence as a substitute for religious life connected to the now destroyed Temple. To this day, synagogues have continued as a central institution in Jewish life.
- To compensate for language problems that the people now had with their Scriptures, scribes came on the scene as linguists and teachers. Though originally a good idea, the scribes became so corrupt that the Lord Jesus Christ denounced these leaders, who were ordinarily held in high esteem by the common people by virtue of their education.
- The Pharisees arose during the time between Testaments as a small group of intensely religious Jewish men who strictly adhered to the letter of oral tradition rather than the letter of the Law as it was found written in the Word of God. These were the separatists of their day, choosing to devote themselves to legalistic righteousness rather than humble themselves before God or involve themselves in any way in matters that might bring them into contact with the despised Gentiles. Pharisees had a profound impact on Jewish society, though they were always comparatively small in number. In spite of this the Lord Jesus Christ correctly rebuked them for being spiritually cold and weighing down folks with rules and regulations of life which did no one any good.
- The Sadducees are generally thought of in our day as the religious modernists of Christ’s time. Such a conclusion about them is entirely too simplistic. Basically skeptical of supernatural things, they did not believe in resurrection from the dead, they did not believe in the existence of angels, and possibly only mouthed affection toward God because they would have been social outcasts had they done otherwise. However, their opposition the Pharisaic view of the resurrection was actually a conservative reaction to the Pharisee’s newer position. A number of priests in important positions were Sadducees, though some were Pharisees as well. Interestingly, the New Testament does not record the salvation of a single Sadducee, though a number of Pharisees trusted Christ.
- Then there were the Herodians. More of a political party than a religious position, the Herodians were political opportunists best described as collaborators who supported Roman rule using Herod and looked upon Christ as little more than a political revolutionary and trouble maker.
- The Essenes were a strict separatist sect of Jews who so completely withdrew themselves from Jewish society that their impact was negligible. The Qumran scrolls, found in the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea, may be relics of the Essenes of Jesus’ day.
- Lastly, we have the Samaritans. Though they were not actually a Jewish institution, Samaritans were the descendants of the mixed-blood Jewish-Gentiles who were the product of the Assyrian captivity of the northern tribe of Israel. There was, as we shall see in our studies, intense animosity which existed between Jewish people and Samaritans, dating back to their opposition of the Jews who were rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah. Additionally, the Samaritan religion, which was a concoction of Judaism, mixed with paganism, refused to acknowledge Jerusalem as the place of the true worship of God, which further irritated the Jews. To their credit, it must be said that the Samaritans were in some way looking toward the coming of the Messiah. What kind of Messiah they expected, we are not sure. However, their response to Christ in the Gospels and later to Philip in the book of Acts was astounding.
Regarding Jewish Occupation
You will recall that at the time the Lord Jesus Christ was on the earth Roman occupation of Palestine was a cold and bitter reality to the Judean population, because evidence of the tyranny of Roman occupation was commonplace. Romans garrisons and their soldiers, by Jewish standards rude, defiled, and arrogant, were everywhere. Roman tax collectors, Jewish men who are termed publicans in the King James Bible and who were looked upon by the general populace as traitors and collaborators, were squeezing as much money as they could out of the people as they operated in fashion much like modern day debt collectors, and received a percentage of the taxes they collected.
The greatest difficulty for the Jewish people may have been that they knew their history. They knew what their high calling was, and they realized the outrage of having a filthy and defiled Gentile nation ruling over those who were the chosen people of God. Such things as having to carry a Roman bag for one mile when a Roman soldier demanded it frustrated them to the point that they marked out one mile markers on every road and path that led out of each city, town, and village. This was so that when they had gone that one mile they would then put the soldier’s belongings down and carry it no further. Be sure that the Jewish people looked for the Messiah. However, they looked for the national salvation of their pride and ego, not salvation from sin. They wanted a Messiah who would destroy the Roman Empire and return their land to the Golden Age of Davidic and Solomonic rule. In other words, they wanted a Messiah who would fit their preconceived notions. They wanted a Messiah to fit their dreams of glory. They did not envision a suffering Savior. They did not necessarily want a sin-bearer. They would be very surprised.
Regarding Jewish Attitudes
I have dealt with this at some length already, but there are certain things that bear repeating. Toward the Romans there was a deep and abiding hatred. Obviously, then, toward those who cooperated with the Romans, the publicans and the Herodians, the intensity of bitterness may have been greater. Toward Gentiles in general, there were widespread feelings of revulsion at the thought of having to actually touch such a person or actually eat with such a person . . . which they would never do under ordinary circumstances. Toward Samaritans, again, there was the hatred born of feeling racially and spiritually superior, but not actually having political or economic superiority. Toward the Messiah, primarily, the thoughts ran toward a political Messiah who would deliver the people from Roman slavery and dominion. Little thought was given to one’s slavery to sin. They wanted a Messiah to ruin the Gentiles, not save them from their sins. They wanted a Messiah to exalt Israel, not humble her. They wanted a Messiah to rein, not one who would suffer and die. Toward the Scriptures, they made God’s Word of none effect by loading it down with so much oral tradition that the tradition eventually had more authority in their lives than the actual Scripture did. The Lord Jesus Christ, we will see, castigated the scribes and the Pharisees for such traditionalism which dragged men into hellfire.
Regarding Gospel Accounts
Synoptic Gospels - so called because they have a rather similar perspective of the Son of God and are dramatically different in what they emphasize than does John in his Gospel account. I categorically reject the notion of any so-called synoptic problem and deny that any so-called Q document ever existed.
The Gospel According To Matthew
Matthew’s given name seems to have been Levi. But when he was called to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ he apparently took for himself a new name . . . Matthew. He was a publican, a tax collector, prior to his calling, as we see in his own version of his calling in Matthew 9.9: “And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.” Matthew seems to have been the prophetical Gospel, concerned very much with the facts surrounding the Savior’s fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. I suggest that you to take a pen or marker and indicate that the following verses are references to Old Testament prophecies that the Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled: Matthew 1.22; 2.5, 15, 17, 23; 3.3; 4.14; 8.17; 12.17; 13.14, 35; 15.7; 21.4; 26.56; 27.9, 35. One final note on Matthew’s Gospel. Though it is placed first in the New Testament, it was not the first New Testament book written. The epistle written by James may have been the first New Testament book written. The first Gospel written seems to have been Mark’s Gospel.
The Gospel According To Mark
This account of our Lord’s earthly ministry was written by a man whose name was John Mark, John being his Aramaic name and Mark being his Greek name. In those days it was a rather common practice to have two such names, one to use in each language. This Gospel account seems to have been strongly influenced by Simon Peter, with whom Mark ministered according to First Peter 5.13. Such a two-person collaboration in writing a book of the Bible is not at all unusual, since it seems fairly certain that Jeremiah used the services of a man named Baruch to write Jeremiah and Paul used several different men in penning his inspired letters. Mark emphasizes Christ as the Perfect Servant of God to a world dominated by slavery and servant-keeping. He also shows that as a Perfect Servant Christ has the power to do His Master’s bidding, which a power-respecting Roman world would appreciate and respond to. To achieve this effect Mark has been inspired by the Holy Spirit to write an action book. He shows a Servant Who is almost always on the move, always serving, always demonstrating His power, and always achieving His objectives and goals.
A particular point of Mark’s style is to load this book with words such as “immediately” and “straightway.” He also seems to string sentences together with the word “and” as a way of impressing his audience with the fact that things just never stopped happening as the Perfect Servant served His Master in heaven. This is because efficient servants move quickly and quietly to get the job done. Notice, if you have not already, that Mark did not record the Lord’s genealogy through either His mother or His stepfather. Why is that? Because a Roman world would neither appreciate nor understand why a servant’s genealogy was important. A Roman world only cared that the servant had the capacity to serve effectively. The Roman world understood the principle more than we do, and the Lord Jesus Christ set the pattern for us which Paul writes in First Corinthians 4.2: “Moreover it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful.” Mark records a servant who was faithful even unto death.
The Gospel According To Luke
This Gospel was written by one who some erroneously think was the only Gentile writer of any portion of the Word of God, except that book of Acts, which he also wrote. This is unlikely, since Paul declared in Romans 3.2, that God has committed unto the Jewish people the oracles of God. In Colossians 4.14, the apostle Paul refers to Luke as the “beloved physician,” which helps to explain why he shows so frequently the humane and tenderly compassionate side of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Perfect Man.
There is nowhere in Scripture indicated that Luke was a firsthand witness of the things he writes about in his Gospel account. However, since he traveled widely, it seems likely that he was an expert gatherer of facts and information, the Holy Spirit of God inspiring the product of his labors and absolutely guaranteeing the truthfulness and the reliability of his record. Although the three other Gospel accounts seem to make very little effort to give a strictly chronological account of Christ’s life, Luke 1.3 gives us good reason to trust that Luke’s is a chronological account: “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus.” For this reason I will use Luke, in this study, as the standard by which the chronology of the life of Christ is measured and tracked.
The Gospel According To John
John’s Gospel is quite possibly the loveliest of all books in the Bible, possibly because when you read the Gospel according to John, more than the others, you actually feel as though you are there. That is, you can see the scene in the garden when the soldiers came to take Him away for trial and crucifixion. You can even feel the heartbeat of the Savior as this human author lay his head on the Savior’s breast during the last supper. There are a number of reasons why I feel John’s Gospel is unique and should be set apart from the others:
- First, because there is much information in John which the other Gospel accounts simply does not contain. Consider the differences from the human perspective. This is possibly because John’s Gospel was written years after the first three were penned. This is also possibly because the personality of John was far more thoughtful and introverted and intimately involved in the Savior, and we know that the Holy Spirit did use the various personalities of those whose writings He inspired.
- Second, because John was so much younger and so much more intimate with the Savior than were the other writers, his look back at the Son of God seems so much more personal and intimate than do the other Gospel accounts. It is rather interesting, in this age of suspicion and jealousy, to note that this extremely intimate portrait of the Savior came from the youngest member of the apostolic band. He was also the one the Savior seems to have chosen to spend the most time with.
Learn a principle that we shall observe in the dealings of the Master Teacher as we study the ways in which He taught men to serve Him: You must learn very quickly the truth that you cannot and should not spend the same amount of time with each person that God wants you to disciple. Christ did not, and you should not feel guilty for doing the same thing. This must be so because, #1, you do not have time to devote to every person equally, #2, you must devote your time to those who are responsive and pliable to your personal ministry, #3, you must spend time with those people you know will multiply your ministry, and #4, some of those you lead just will not need much of your time. This was the kind of ministry Christ had and even His disciples fought for His time. In spite of the problems which must arise in our ministries because we are sinful men, we must set out to train the few to reach the many.