Key To The Understanding Of The Scriptures
by H.P. MANSFIELD
(15) The Ministry of the Lord and the Call to the Gentiles
Conditions In Palestine At Christ's Birth.
The Lord Jesus was born when Rome dominated Palestine politically, a foreign governor exercised control over Jerusalem, and a cold formalism robbed the worship of God of its power.
It was also a time when many Jews were looking for the coming of the promised Messiah (Mark 7:1; Luke 2:25-26, 36-38; John 1:45-47.) But they were looking for a powerful leader, and mighty warrior, who would overthrow their enemies, and bring to reality the visions of glory concerning which they read in their prophets.
Actually, the Old Testament prophets "testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow" (1 Pet. 1:11), but the Jews ignored the first, and concentrated on the second, so that when the Lord did appear as predicted, they rejected him.
They were not incorrect in looking for glory, but only in the time- setting at which it would be brought about.
The prophets had clearly predicted that Christ would come as the Lamb of God to be offered for the sins of men in fulfilment of the Edenic covenant (Isaiah 53). They had prophesied that he would die as a sacrifice (Daniel 9:26), that his executioners would "pierce his hands and his feet" (Ps. 22:16), and that this would be at the instigation of the Jews themselves (Zech. 12:10; 13:6-7).
But they also predicted his resurrection and second advent (see Acts 2:29-36), and they proclaimed the glory and greatness that will accrue to Israel when its Messiah-king shall reign upon the throne of David (Jer. 3:17; Isaiah 2:2-4; Amos 9:11-12; Psalm 2).
The Lord Jesus was the personification of all these promises and prophecies. He was the Word which had been proclaimed from the beginning (John 1:1) "made flesh" (v. 14). He was the Seed of the Woman destined to bruise the serpent's head (Gen. 3:15), the Son of Abraham who will bring blessings to all nations (Gen. 22); the Prophet like unto Moses (Deut. 18), whose words the people will ultimately be compelled to accept (Acts 3:22-26); the King promised David who was to be both Son of David and Son of God (2 Sam. 7).
In Jesus Christ there was seen the Law and the Prophets walking in the midst of the people, and proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom of God.
The Jews Are Disappointed In Their Messiah.
But Jesus, who proclaimed that the time was not then ripe for his manifestation as the promised mighty leader, and taught that the cross must come before the crown (see Matt. 16:24-27), was a complete disappointment to the Jewish people.
They desired a powerful military leader capable of breaking the shackles of Rome, not a carpenter preaching that "the meek shall inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5); they looked for one who would destroy their enemies, not one who taught the doctrine of non-resistance to evil (Matt. 5:11-12, 25, 39); they were impatient for immediate power and glory, and were not prepared to set about conquering their own-inclination whilst they waited for the Kingdom so long in the future.
Even his disciples failed to understand both him and his mission. The shame of his crucifixion finally convinced them that they had made a mistake in following him. "We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel," they declared (Luke 24:21).
The Crucifixion of Jesus
"Wicked hands" finally nailed Jesus to the stake, but it was nevertheless by "the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23). He died, as a sacrifice for sin. On the cross he dramatised what is necessary to render perfect obedience unto God.
His flesh was crucified, so that he died. But figuratively he had, crucified his flesh day after day, as he put to death its desires and refused to submit to them (Luke 22:42). He taught that sin came from within (Mark 7:21-23), and is therefore used as a metonym for the flesh, so that it is said, "He died unto sin once" (Rom. 6:10). In that crucified body, the desires of the flesh were rendered inactive, teaching his followers what they must do figuratively: "For they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections (passions -- Revised Version) and lusts" (Gal. 5:24).
His blood was poured out, as a symbol of a dedicated life. The Law taught that "the life of the flesh was in the blood" Lev. 17:11), and in sacrifice this had to be smeared upon the altar, as a token that the person's life would be dedicated to doing God's will.
In the ordinance of the Last Supper, Christ set forth the significance of his sacrifice (Luke 22:19-20). The unleavened bread represented his body that had never sinned; the wine represented his blood (or life) that had been given in complete dedication to God. Now both were to be offered in sacrifice for the redemption of the family of God.
The one (the bread) was the token of a negative offering, the denial of flesh; the other (the wine) was the token of a positive offering, the manifestation in life of the principles of God.
Those who come unto God through baptism into Jesus Christ, are baptised "into his death" (Rom. 6:3), in that it is a public declaration that they will seek to follow Jesus in the sacrifice he offered.
They do not do so perfectly, but in Christ, there is "forgiveness of sins" and upon the mercy of God they can lean in confidence (1 John 1:9).
The charges laid against Jesus by which his accusers procured his death were two: a charge of blasphemy, and a charge of political insurrection.
The charge laid against him by the Jews was that of blasphemy, because he claimed to be the Son of God (Luke 22:70-71). For this they condemned him to death. But Pilate, the Roman governor, ordered him to be crucified, not on account of blasphemy but because be claimed to be the king of the Jews (John 18:37; 19:14-19). This was the accusation placed over his cross: Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews.
The Lord Jesus Christ will yet return to the earth to vindicate the truth of his claim.
The Return Of Christ.
The Jews crucified Christ saying: "His blood be upon us and upon our children." In A.D. 70 those words had terrible fulfilment. The Jews had revolted against the Romans, and the legions marched against them, inflicting great cruelty upon the people. Jerusalem was besieged and conditions within the city reduced to a terrible state. Internecine strife and bloodshed had broken out within the walls, whilst the enemy without inflicted terrible losses and awaited the inevitable end of the most terrible siege in history. Over a million Jews had been destroyed, and the remnant were scattered throughout the world. Jesus had predicted this. He had declared:
"They (the Jews) shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, UNTIL the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24).
It is of the greatest significance that in recent years, Jerusalem has been cleared of foreign domination, and after 2000 years of such, that Jews today occupy it. Though this is not the restoration spoken of in the prophets, it is a token pointing to that time.
Three days after Jesus was crucified, he was raised from the dead, and forty days later, be ascended to the Father in heaven (Acts 1:3; Mark 16:19). Those days were spent in instructing his Apostles in divine truth. Among other things, he explained that God would restore the Kingdom to Israel at the time appointed, whilst meanwhile the Gospel must be preached that a people might be taken out of the Gentiles for God (Acts 1:3, 6-8; 15:14).
Then came the time that he must leave them. As they conversed together on the Mount of Olives, he was taken up from them into heaven. As they stood watching him ascend, two angels stood by them, and declared:
"Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you Into heaven, shall so come, in like manner, as ye have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).
The Establishment Of Ecclesias.
With a thrilling message of hope to take to the people, the Apostles commenced the work of preaching. They proclaimed the message of a risen Christ who would return again to the earth and set up thereon his universal reign. They called upon men and women to believe this message and to be baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus they fulfilled the mission he had delivered unto them to do:
"Go into all the world and preach the gospel; he that believeth and is baptised shall be saved . . ." (Mark 16:16).
Gradually communities of believers were established throughout the world. They were organised into Ecclesias, a word that has been rendered "church" in the Bible, but which signifies when properly translated from the Greek, "called out ones." These answer to the description of Acts 15:14: "God did visit the Gentiles, to take OUT OF THEM, a people for His name."
The Ecclesias were exhorted to live so as to have Christ as their example (1 Pet. 2:21-25), to live in anticipation of his return (2 Thess. 3:5), when they would reign with him (2 Tim. 2:12). They were taught that they were spiritual Israelites (Gal. 6: 16), having embraced the national hope of Israel by baptism into Christ (Eph. 2:11-13), and constituting the heirs of the promises made from the beginning (Gal. 3:26-28).
They were taught that outside of this "one faith" (Eph. 4:5) there was "no hope" (Eph. 2:12), and that natural Jews had forfeited their claim to the title of "Israelites indeed" by their rejection of Christ Jesus (Rom. 11:7).
The Coming Of An Apostasy.
But the Apostles also warned, that as Israel had drifted from God, so also could these Gentile believers. In fact, they predicted an apostasy from the one faith. Paul warned:
"I know this, that after my departing, shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:29-30).
"The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
These warning words have had sad fulfillment. In course of time truth became submerged by a flood of error. The Ecclesias lost their distinctive character, and though the churches that arose claimed to be Christian, they were found denying the doctrines of Christ. Christendom today is astray from the Bible. Such ideas as the immortality of the soul, the trinity, heaven going as a reward, an immortal devil, and other theories, are completely erroneous. A personal responsibility rests upon every individual to seek out the truth for, himself if he would be saved (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-2).
The Truth Today.
But God has never left Himself without a witness in the earth. And down the centuries little communities have arisen holding aloft the torch of Truth, proclaiming their hope in the return of Christ and the setting up of the Kingdom of God on earth. And as again and again, these communities have drifted into error, so fresh ones have arisen to proclaim the old truths. We claim that today the torch of Truth is held by the Christadelphians -- a word signifying "Brethren of Christ" (see Hebrews 2:10-11). This community, like all the other communities down the centuries, proclaims its belief in the return of Christ to set up his Kingdom on earth, with this difference; the signs of the times show there is a greater urgency in the message today, for they reveal that the world is on the very eve of the most dramatic event in all history -- the personal visible return of the Lord Jesus in glory.
The Apostle John was the last of the Apostles to die. Before his death the Lord appeared to him and gave him the book of Revelation -- the last book in the Bible. In its closing chapter we hear for the last time, until it will be heard again in the future, the Voice of Christ: "Behold, I come quickly (or suddenly, as the word in the original implies): and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." And to these words, the Apostle added his own, which all true followers of the Lord will endorse: "Even so, come, Lord Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen" (Rev. 22:12-20, 21).
QUESTIONS TO STUDY No. 15
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