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Rather than reading the Bible through the eyes of modern secularism, this provocative six-part course teaches you to read the Bible through its own eyes—as a record of God’s dealing with the human race. When you read it at this level, you will discover reasons to worship God in areas of life you probably never before associated with “religion.”
© Charles A. Clough 1998
Charles A. Clough
Biblical Framework Series 1995–2003
Part 5: Confrontation with the King
Chapter 1: Who do You Say That I Am?
Lesson 107 – “Who Do You Say I Am?” Reasons for Rejecting Him; Jews and Gentiles
10 Dec 1998
Fellowship Chapel, Jarrettsville, MD
We’ll try to finish this chapter. Tonight I think it’s good that we recall some basic issues of how we’re approaching the time of our Lord’s incarnation, that we’re treating this whole thing as basically a debate about the identity of Jesus. That’s the issue. Who is Jesus Christ? For hundreds of years the church went through a lot of debate procedures trying to figure out how do we state the person and identity of Jesus Christ so that all the other doctrines are protected. It’s very important that we understand Christ’s Person.
We made several points; we said the theme is, as Jesus said to His disciples, “who do you say I am?” We said that the importance of the question is that the answer to the question shows not what Jesus is or isn’t, it shows the nature of the hearer. So it’s the question’s answer to “who do you say I am?” The answer to that question exposes the spiritual perception of the person giving the answer. We also said in Galatians 4:4 and we went through page 9 in the notes, presenting Christ’s challenge and the preparation for the challenge. All of this is really an exposition of Galatians 4:4, “in the fullness of time, God brought forth His Son.” That’s not talking about it was night and the shepherds were out in the field or something. The “fullness of time” has a little more content than that. It means that both the pagan and Gentile world had enough exposure that there was no legitimate excuse for misinterpreting the identity of Jesus. That’s what the fullness of time means, that the Jews and the Gentiles are held accountable to identify correctly this person, Jesus of Nazareth.
There can’t be an excuse that well, we just weren’t equipped. That’s not going to cut it, because in history, as we said, the pagan world was prepared, all four kingdoms of Daniel had happened. The Greeks had provided the intellectual tools of rigorous analytical thought, so people, although on a pagan basis couldn’t answer the questions and really probably could argue they couldn’t even define the questions, at least there was enough thought floating around to be able to understand the claims of Jesus Christ. It’s like today as history approaches the Second Advent and the return of Christ and Christ setting up the world government that He will set up. If Jesus were to have come back in AD 850 would there have been a global consciousness among men in all the different countries, would there have been a global consciousness sufficient to appreciate what it means when Christ identifies Himself as the King of kings? I don’t think so, because what you had was a regional consciousness. People in Europe were conscious of the region of Europe; people in Africa were conscious of the region of Africa. People in Asia were conscious of the region of Asia. But we are rapidly developing today, for the first time since Noah, a sense of global consciousness, and this is vital because when Christ comes back it’s important that it’s understood who He is, what He’s about and what He’s doing. God always makes people hungry before He serves the meal, and that’s what we mean by the fullness of time. There’s always a preparation before God pulls something off in order that it be appreciated when He finally pulls it off.
In the Jewish world, we finished what they were going through, and we noted on page 8 the Maccabean conflict. We’ve noted that both that pagan world and the Jewish world had come, just prior to Jesus, to a certain conscious level of their failures. Rome and the glory of Rome had kind of soured with the average person in the street, and we gave some neat historical quotes of what people in the street at the time of Jesus were saying. There was a Messianic expectation in the air. Clearly the order of Rome was not satisfying the heart of people, and they craved something else. They tried this, and that doesn’t work, they tried that and that doesn’t work, so there was a craving. Among the Jews, they were under the kingdom of man, they’d been crushed, and after the exile they came back, but it was only a partial restoration, it wasn’t a full restoration. So they felt the weight of a slave secondary nation under power politics of the Gentile world. So they weren’t in such a great mood either.
Into that milieu, page 9, Christ comes and presents His challenge. We want to look at two things. We want to look at the method of His presentation, and then the nature of His presentation, the comprehensiveness of it. By the method of presentation, what I mean is that the Gospels focused on the Jewish question. Jesus was a Jew; He came to Jewish people with a Jewish program. The Jewish people should have understood, because they had 2,000 years of history. The Jewish people, since the time of Abraham, had been prepared. They had gone through a series of events and it was clear that these events were leading somewhere and were teaching something. Down toward the end they saw that the kingdom and the people were hopelessly sinful, that if there were to be salvation and the Kingdom of God introduced into history, it had to come from Yahweh, it had to come from the God of the Old Testament, it couldn’t come from man, it couldn’t come from the kings, it couldn’t come from the (quote) “democracy,” the power of the people. All the excuses and the false routes and the detours had all been closed off, logically speaking.
We want to move to [the fact that] that Jesus Christ in a method of presentation comes first to the covenant nation, “to the Jew first” and then to the Gentile. Why “to the Jew first?” As we said on page 10, the reason goes back to the Abrahamic Covenant. The Abrahamic Covenant decrees a certain design to history, and in the design of history, Israel is the conduit of revelation. Why is that? We said two years ago, when we were dealing with the call of Abraham, I made a point about the exclusivity of the truth. By that I mean that starting with Abraham, God did not reveal Himself any more to corporate humanity. He withdrew that, He allowed corporate humanity to paganize out, and then He said I’m going to talk to you indirectly instead of directly now; I’m going to talk to you through this chosen instrument. That gave rise to the concept of exclusive truth. That means, for every people group on earth, if you have ten different groups there aren’t ten different valid answers to the questions. There’s only one group that has the answer.
This is very offensive; this strikes at the heart of the pagan. [They say] oh, I think that’s not fair…. Think back, this is where the power of the framework happens. Why did God have to call Abraham out? Why did He have to come to an exclusivistic methodology? For the reason that when He tried it the universal way, people universally paganized. The point was that all men, all people groups, have lost their right to the truth. It’s very simple. The reason for exclusivity is because you do not have any longer a right to the truth. Try that one the next time you’re in a debate. The reason the gospel is narrow is because everybody’s wrong, that’s why. Of course, they can’t believe that you’re saying this. But don’t be embarrassed to say it.
One of my favorite moments was watching Bill Buckley take on Phil Donahue on a program. Phil Donahue had this big talk show, he got Bill Buckley up there and he started waving that big bony finger of his and saying to Buckley (Buckley’s an evangelical Catholic Christian), he said Mr. Buckley, I don’t understand why is it you Christians think you’re the only people with the truth. Then he goes into a commercial break. When he comes back from the commercial, then Buckley looks at him in that typical way he has, and he says, Well, Phil because we are the only people with the truth. It was a fantastic moment, because that was not the answer that Phil Donahue expected. Because he waved his hand in his face he expected Buckley to back up, he expected Buckley to compromise, and Buckley, very forth rightly said no, you’re wrong Phil, I’m right, that’s the way it is. It was just like someone threw cold water in Donahue’s face, just for a split second he was wordless.
Exclusivity is unavoidable in a sinful world. That’s the corollary to the fall of man. That’s what’s going on in why Jesus works through Israel first. That’s why there are those anti-Gentile things we’ve mentioned. I gave a quote from a Jewish observer; Jesus was a Jew, totally and thoroughly. He came to give His people an opportunity to nationally accept Christ. I mention this because when we read the gospels you’ve got to keep in mind there’s a lot of feelings going on in the Gospels, it’s not just sweet stories about Jesus, and it’s not just leading up to the cross. There’s more to it than that. One of the things that’s going on in the Gospels is this one: is the nation Israel going to nationally recognize Jesus as the Messiah of the nation. It’s a national decision, not just individuals in the nation. Yes, individuals are involved, obviously, a nation can’t decide if individuals don’t. But there is an issue over whether or not Israel nationally will receive Christ. That question is basically answered halfway through all four Gospels and the answer is no. It’s when the answer begins to be “no” that Jesus shifts His methodology and He withdraws and He begins to groom the faithful remnant for a new thing called the inter-advent age.
The inter-advent age isn’t explained in the Old Testament. It came about because of this strange thing that happened. The Messiah comes to the nation and He’s rejected. It sets up something in history, it’s foreseen, obviously God foresaw it, and you can read it backwards, Monday morning quarterbacks are very brilliant, you can read it after the fact, oh yeah, that was in the Old Testament. Well, if you were there you wouldn’t have seen it that clearly.
Now we come to this halfway thing in all four Gospels, and then you see Jesus begin to talk about the Spirit is going to come, and what does the Spirit do? You shall be witnesses. Where? In Jerusalem, Judea, and to the uttermost parts of the world. See the order. That’s Old Testament, that’s not New Testament, there’s nothing new about it. It’s the same old thing, same methodology that you see back in Genesis 12:1 with Abraham.
The second thing we want to look at on page 11 is the fact that when Christ presented Himself, He not only presented Himself methodologically to the Jew first, but Jesus Christ presented Himself in a unique way. We want to get this because other teachers don’t do this; this is the uniqueness of Jesus. [blank spot] … and the revelation comes through word, that’s the teaching. So Jesus Christ was a teacher. In that He did not differ from Buddha, from Confucius or anybody else. But where Jesus does differ is that it’s word and deed, and the deed is an outgrowth of His person. That’s what makes the difference. It’s the person of Jesus Christ, and His (if He’s wrong) arrogant claims that Buddha did not do, Confucius did not do, Mohammed did not do, no other religious teacher in history ever said the sort of crazy things Jesus did. You want to fasten on to this little thing because when you get into discussions it’s good to remember that… there’s no danger in being refuted, there’s nobody that reads the Bible any more. The point is that if people would read the Bible, they would understand that it’s a totally different ball game here. This is a totally different ball game, and you cannot compare Confucius with Jesus, and you cannot compare Buddha with Jesus, without coming to a conclusion that it’s the person of Christ that figures preeminently in His teaching. It’s not just what He says; it’s who is saying what He is saying.
On page 11 I introduce the four things we’re going to be studying: four events, His birth, His life, His death, His resurrection. Follow where I say that “Jesus’ entry into this world was unique according to the New Testament testimony. By the virgin birth Jesus succeeded in acquiring a legitimate humanity without sin. Additionally, His full divine nature was successfully combined with true human nature in one person. Thus, while other religious teachers claimed to represent God” including Moses, Isaiah, “or to be a manifestation of deity, Jesus claimed to be God.” Why do I make a deal out of this? Because that’s part of the presentation. People have to decide, are you going to reject that or are you going accept it. You can’t be neutral about this.
The second thing: “During His life, Jesus said and did many outstanding things. In later parts of this pamphlet a case will be made that one of the most outstanding features of Jesus’ career was the authority He assumed over man and nature. Jesus challenged people to consider how He exercised control over the elements of nature, and how He demanded that His words be accepted on His own implicit authority.” Notice the last sentence, very critical for his teaching method during his life, “Whereas other teachers justified what they taught by an appeal to a standard of truth outside of themselves, Jesus insisted that He was the standard of truth Himself!”
You can’t come to the biography of Jesus and, like C. S. Lewis said, say that this guy is a good teacher. Lewis was absolutely right when he said this in his book, Mere Christianity; Jesus doesn’t leave you with that option. You either have to put this guy down as a lunatic, a fabrication of the church, or who He claimed to be. He can’t be a good sweet little teacher, not if you’re intellectually honest.
Then we deal with the death of Christ. “Jesus was the only member of the human race who, without guilt of suicide, chose to die. When Jesus died, He accomplished what no other teacher ever accomplished and what no Old Testament sacrifice ever did: He somehow bore the sins of the world upon Himself and received God’s judgment upon them.” The death of Christ has some unique features to it. Jesus did not die by the injuries of the cross, we’ll refute that point. He was not a victim of crucifixion. Jesus Christ chose the exact moment of death, and the choice was His. He, in one sense, put Himself to death on the cross, as a voluntary sacrifice for our sins.
Then we go to the resurrection. Of course, He just demonstrated a long promise, and this is significant to the resurrection, not that it was a magic event that He just popped out of the grave, there’s something bigger. Remember you’ve got to interpret these events in light of the Old Testament. So a key sentence here is, “He thus demonstrated that the long-promised ‘new creation’ had begun to appear.” When Jesus got up out of that grave in His resurrection body—that was the first piece of the new universe walking around. Whereas in the first universe the heavens and the earth were created, and what was the last creation? Man. In the new universe, it’s the people that are created first, then the new heavens and new earth to contain them; it’s exactly opposite. So the Lord Jesus Christ now, wherever He is in His physical human body, for His physical human body does exist at a point some place. The Lord Jesus Christ exists as the first existent piece of this new eternal universe.
What we want to do tonight is say okay, Jesus presented Himself to the Jews, He presented His person behind His teaching, with at least four unique things that He pulled off that no one else has ever pulled off. All four of these events make Jesus Christ unique. It’s useful to remember how unique our Lord was, and that He can’t be classified as a religious teacher. Usually this time of year, Time Magazine, Newsweek, scrape the bottom of the barrel, editors need a story, everybody is not reading Time and Newsweek because Christmas is on everybody’s mind, so in order to make the magazine sell they always have to run a story about Jesus. You sit there as a Christian, you open up this story, and every reason under the sun why He couldn’t be who He claimed to be… Dr. So and So with three PhDs says that Jesus really never claimed that, that was a figment of someone’s imagination in the church. Another guy says well, Jesus was wrong; He just was a Jew that just got ahead of Himself. There’s always a story like that, every Christmas, in one of the news magazines. I have never picked up a news magazine around Christmastime and seen a story that presents orthodoxy. But that’s because of the idiots who edit them.
Let’s go to the response to the challenge, because there was a response to the challenge, and it was a very serious parting of friends that happened. Jesus Christ splits families, Jesus Christ splits nations, Jesus Christ splits people apart. He doesn’t just [can’t understand word], He splits. The responses are two-fold. He has not been well-received by the majority of people. So we’re going to say first, on page 12, “The Response Among the Jews.” There are distinctive tones of response to Jesus Christ. Let’s see how this happens. I should have listed this in paragraph numbers because there are distinct elements in the Jewish response to Jesus that you need to see to read the Gospels carefully and observantly.
The first thing you need to understand about the response to Jesus is… I list some Bible verses [John 12:19; Acts 2:41; 4:4; 5:14, 29]. We won’t turn to those, but look those up. They speak of the remnant, the faithful remnant. In our Old Testament studied we’ve run into this one before. Remember that during the time of the prophets, when the kingdom was in decline, the nation apostatized. Remember that passage in the Old Testament having to do with the prophet Elijah? He was complaining that there wasn’t anybody around and he was the only guy, and God said He had 7,000 other people that had not bowed the knee to Baal. That is one of the famous locations in Scripture where the concept of remnant starts to appear seriously. From that point on it becomes more and more evident that the prophets are a minority; that the majority are never going to go along with the program, and that’s why there is judgment that falls upon the nation. The remnant simply isn’t big enough percent wise of the population to avoid national condemnation.
It’s very sobering, that it appears that God works on a remnant basis with all people groups. Remember what the bargaining was going on with Abraham? This is in a Gentile state. Abraham was saying will you save the city? And God says find me fifty, etc. the first bargaining went on. That’s there’s the joke about why the Jew is so good in business, if you can bargain with God all these years you’d be good in bargaining with men. Abraham has this bargaining going on for the price of Sodom and Gomorrah. He wants God to save Sodom and Gomorrah if he can find so many people; there’s the concept of the remnant there. Finally it turns out there was only Lot in that family, and God says that’s not enough, that’s not enough to save Sodom and Gomorrah, out of here. I think there’s a reason why God works in terms of remnants, because if you think about it, if the remnant gets too small, then there’s an overwhelming peer pressure, a simply overwhelming peer pressure in all levels of society that drags everybody down, and at that point it’s like it can’t be redeemed. It’s almost like there’s a self-destruction level that builds in and after that’s reached, it’s hands off, let’s clean that house out, then we’ll start something else somewhere else.
Jesus, when He came to this earth it was the same principle. There was a mass of national Jews and then inside the mass of national Jews there was a subset of the remnant. It’s that remnant inside the nation to which Jesus, at the midpoint of all four Gospels, moves. Jesus’ addressed at the first part of the Gospels are to the nation. In the second part of the Gospels the addresses are to the remnant, there’s a shift that is going on. You want to be alert to that as you read the New Testament.
What did the Jews use as an excuse? Number one, here’s the first reason why they got rid of Jesus Christ. Let’s look at the dynamics rejection, because those dynamics are still active spiritually in the world. Turn to John 11:47-52. It’s quite clear because it’s explicitly stated a reason why Jesus Christ was considered expendable. “Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, ‘What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs.  If we let him go,’” now here’s the crux, watch this verse, observe carefully, “If we let him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’” Why was that a fear?
What did we say last week? What did we say was the word on the street? The word on the street in both Jewish and Gentile circles was that there was going to be a ruler coming out of the East. If you were Roman authorities, would you be comfortable with that? I wouldn’t. And I particularly wouldn’t be comfortable with it when it was on my eastern frontier; that was habitually a pain in the neck for the Roman armies to maintain law and order. The near east to the Romans was as big a pain as the Near East is to the United Nations today. It’s the same thing, same argument, same fight going on all the time, and no peace. Things haven’t changed. Here, in the middle of all of this, with all this gasoline around, here comes somebody lighting a match. The Jews knew, and in fact, oppressed by Maccabean Wars, I gave you that background, the Jews feel under the oppression of the Romans and they fear the Romans. The Romans had a great power.
The first reason for the rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ is political security. The mere presence of Jesus is a political threat. It still is! Here’s why it is a political threat. If a person, say you or me, have our ultimate allegiance not to the state but to Kurios `Iesous, the Lord Jesus, what does that do to the authority of the person who wants to be in charge of the state? It makes him second best. And if you don’t have authority over all, you don’t have authority at all. That’s the political threat. Jesus’ political threat is felt today in the court system of this country. That’s why the Bible is considered a very dangerous piece of literature, because it teaches people to have a standard of authority that cannot be controlled by the press, by the media, by peer pressure or anyone else. They should not have any fear. Why should a legitimate ruler of the state have any fear of Jesus? What does Jesus say in Romans 13? Be obedient to the authorities. But the problem is, it’s a derived obedience. In other words, why should I be obedient to the state? Several reasons. I could say because I’m afraid of getting arrested, I’m afraid of physical force, etc. But I am obedient to the state because of what Jesus tells me to do. But the problem with that is it leaves a loose end for the political ruler, because He’s dependent on this Jesus and your relationship and my relationship with Him. That’s something he can’t control… notice the words “can’t control.”
That’s what’s happening here, they’re fearful that the Romans are going to come in. He says “the Romans will come and they’ll take away both our place and our nation.  But a certain one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all,  nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” I’ve always loved John’s Gospel, because John’s Gospel has some of the most beautifully constructed irony to it. What do you see in that last verse that is terribly ironic? Observe that text. Do you see a double meaning there? How does Caiaphas intend the meaning to read? He means political expediency, one died for all, so we don’t all get killed by the Romans, let them kill one of us and get rid of it and solve the problem. But in a deeper meaning what has Caiaphas just said? That one will die for the nation, in a way that Caiaphas hasn’t even thought about. See how elegant and how sovereign God is, the words in this Gospel… it’s amazing how He pulls this off.
So number one, political security, Jesus is a threat to political security and He still is.
Number two, it’s the old boogey from the Old Testament, legalism. “In the same vein, the Jews had experienced over and over their own inability to keep the Law in a way that pleased Yahweh; but instead of driving them to God’s grace, their inability had led them to mitigate the lofty demands of the Law.” They should have been driven to Yahweh and His grace for the power to keep the Law, but “To replace the Torah and its vital gracious spirit, many of them substituted an intricate network of legalistic, human regulation. … In a Talmudic passage for example….” Look at this quote, isn’t this a ripper. “…one reads the rabbinical instruction to pay more attention to these rules than the original Scripture or Torah:” Look what it says, “My son, be more careful in [the observance of] the words of the Scribes than in the words of the Torah, for in the laws of the Torah there are positive and negative precepts…; but as to the laws of the Scribes, who ever transgresses any of the enactments of the Scribes incurs the penalty of death.”
What’s the motive for obedience under legalism? It’s fear. Of whom? Men. Legalism is ultimately peer pressure. It’s group pressure. It’s my fear of what other people think about me. It has nothing to do with God. It’s what God thinks about me. This is why in the last paragraph on page 12; this is the second reason why Jesus was rejected. The first one is political security, the second one is legalism.
“Starting with John the Baptist, however, and continuing with Jesus, they were faced with the demand that their righteousness…” Starting with John the Baptist and the Sermon on the Mount, what did Jesus say? That your righteousness “must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees.” What scribes? The guys in this quote. And in fact the Lord Jesus Christ almost went out of his way to offend these people. Turn to Matt. 9:10. The most angry exchanges did not occur between Jesus and the politicians; it did not occur between Jesus and the prostitutes and murderers, what we would say the gross sinners. The most angry exchanges in the Gospels came between Jesus and the legalists.
In Matthew 9:10, “And it happened that as He was reclining at the table in the house, behold many tax-gatherers and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.” By the way, what does that tell you what He must have been like personally? He must have been sociable. John the Baptist was not, he had a very unsociable ascetic personality, and Jesus comments at one point, you didn’t like John because he was ascetic, now you’re complaining about Me and I like to go to parties. What’s your problem? These people felt comfortable with Him. He’s dining with them.
Verse 11, “And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat with the tax-gatherers and sinners.  But when He heard this, He said, ‘It is not who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are ill.  But go and learn what this means, I desire compassion, and not sacrifice; for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” Trace out those verses, Matthew 9:10-13; 12:1-14; 15:1-4; 23:13-39; notice they’re all Matthew quotes. It’s not that they’re not in the other Gospels but I like to quote Matthew on these things because Matthew was a bureaucrat that worked with people a lot. He got his hands on the pulse of the way people think, and Matthew, of the four Gospel writers, observed these things about people.
On page 13 there’s a third reason why the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. This one was also very, very emotional and really upset people. “Moreover, the loyal devotion to Yahweh which was the very essence of Jewish historical preparation apparently had been transformed into a misplaced loyalty to exceedingly questionable interpretations of the Old Testament. By Jesus’ day, for instance, the Second Temple buildings had attained a pseudo-sanctity reminiscent of the sinful ‘impregnable’ image of the First Temple under the pre-exilic kings. Back in that era, if you recall part IV of this series, the pre-exilic nation had forgotten the conditions of blessing under the Sinaitic Covenant in their desire to remember the nation’s unconditional election of the Abrahamic Covenant. Jesus’ remarks were thus construed as an attack upon God’s sacred ground.”
Remember, “You can destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Of course, He’s talking about His body, but the very fact that the people… boy, they picked up the stones when they heard that one, what are you going to do, blow up the temple? It’d be just like the Muslims today, worried about the dome of the rock there, if somebody says we’re going to take it out… you’re going to what? You’re going to start a world war? And that’s literally what would happen if anybody messes with that particular thing in Islam. The point is that the temple had replaced God in sanctity for the Jews. You can kind of understand how thy might have got that way, they had to fight the Romans, they had to fight the Syrians, they had to fight Antiochus Epiphanies, and when they had a chance to build a temple, they were going to build a temple and they didn’t want anybody messing with it. So the temple was almost like the Alamo is for Texans. That was the place where by golly we’ll fight to the last man for that one. Then Jesus makes light of this, Jesus wasn’t disrespectful but He put it in perspective.
So number three was Jesus seemed to undercut the sanctity of the temple. A fourth reason is that the popular imagery of the Messiah pictured Him as a glorious King, not a suffering servant, and Jesus was obviously not a glorious King. Palm Sunday was the closest He ever came to it, and within 24-48 hours the same people who had thrown palms in His way were the ones yelling for His crucifixion. Very superficial. All these crazy interpretations of the Old Testament are explained in the New Testament, and they are explained as a hardening of the heart, Isaiah 6:9-12.
Another glaring example of the highly questionable Old Testament interpretation was the idea the Messiah was not to be identified as Yahweh Himself. So number four was the fact that He wasn’t a glorious King, now number five almost in reverse, but He was going around claiming to be God, and Messiah can’t be God. See, all this stereotypical interpretations that they had made of the Old Testament collided with His claim.
I want to mention something else. That’s why I have an extensive quote here from Arnold Fruchtenbaum about Isaiah 53, a very famous passage. This is pre-exilic, one of the most, probably the most complete passages in the Bible. How did the Jews interpret this? They had two Messiahs, they believed in Jesus as the son of Joseph would be the suffering Messiah, and the son of David would be the glorious Messiah. So they took the glory passages and the suffering passages, couldn’t fit them together in one person, so they made Him two people, and that was a Jewish idea of how to get logic into the interpretation.
Isaiah 53:1, “Who has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  For He grew up before Him like a tender shot, and like a root out of parched ground; He had no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.  He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face. He was despised and we did not esteem Him.  Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.” Look at verse 5 and think about what you have just read in verse 5. That is a tremendous introductory statement in the Old Testament that proves vicarious suffering for sin. Notice what it says. “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening of our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.” If you listen to modern debate, you’ll hear it said that Jews don’t believe this passage refers to the Messiah today. The Jews say that must refer to Israel, the nation. They’ve turned the interpretation from the Messiah to the nation of the Messiah.
That’s why I’ve got this extensive quote that I want to read through it. I want to correct a false idea about that interpretation of Isaiah 53. “To interpret Isaiah 53 as speaking of Messiah is not non-Jewish.” That’s the accusation the Jews today make, ah, that’s just a Gentile way of reading it. It is not a Gentile way. “In fact, if we are to speak of the traditional Jewish interpretation, it would be that the passage speaks of the Messiah. The first one to expound the view that this referred to Israel rather than the Messiah was Shlomo Yitzchaki, better known as Rashi (c. AD 1040-1105).” Look at the dates here, watch the dates. So this is over a thousand years later that the Jews decided on this interpretation. That means for 900 years after Jesus Christ they still held that this was the Messianic passage. “He was followed by David Kimchi (1160-1235). But this was to go contrary to all rabbinical teaching of that day and of the preceding one thousand years. Today, Rashi’s view has become dominant in Jewish and rabbinic theology. But this is not the Jewish view. Nor is it the traditional Jewish view. Those closer to the original writings, and who had less contact with Christian apologists, interpreted it as speaking of the Messiah.” Very important!
“Other Jewish objections have been added to the first century ones. These include, if you were to interview Jews today, why don’t you believe that Jesus is your Messiah, here’s some answer that the modern Jew would add to those that we’ve already studied. They would include “Jesus’ ‘failure’ to bring peace, the anti-Semitic behavior of groups identified with the Christian faith, the impossibility of a man becoming God, and the fear that a Jew who accepts Jesus will cease to be a Jew.” All those figure into the dynamic behind the Jewish rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the Jews, and that’s why the Bible says “He came to His own, and His own received Him not.” All kinds of reasons.
Now let’s look at the response of the Gentiles. We’ll read through this. The Jews had their reasons for rejecting Christ; the Gentiles have a different set of reasons. Both are sinful, both are rebellious, but they are different brands of rebellion, so let’s look at the Gentile brand of unbelief.
“Gentiles continued their idolatry of nature and arrogant estimation of man’s mental capacities. Pilate’s remarks to Jesus epitomize the majority Gentile view.” “Where are you from,” Pilate said. Jesus: (no answer). Pilate: Don’t you speak to me? Don’t you know that I have the power to release you and I have the power to crucify you? See the Gentile mentality, that’s not the way the Jewish mentality was. How do we see Caiaphas? He was afraid of the power.
[blank spot] …if there isn’t something that has a satanic ring to it, what did Satan say in Isaiah 14. “I will” be like the Most High God. That’s something that those of us coming out of a Gentile tradition, we share that spirit, I have the power, I’ll add Jesus as it is convenient for me to add Him to my pantheon.
“In other words, whatever importance and authority Jesus had, so the Gentile mind worked, He was beneath the importance and authority of the ‘almighty’ state.” See, Rome is the fourth kingdom. “As an illustration,” we’ll get into this later in the next chapter, a thing called Arianism. Arianism is the belief that Jesus Christ was a man on whom the Spirit of God came. Jehovah’s Witnesses are Arians. “As an illustration, Arianism, the main heresy denying Jesus’ full divine nature, was consistently popular” in church history with people who believed in dictatorships and total political power. A very interesting point. This is why, folks, today in Eastern Europe, where Arianism had a tremendous influence, there’s a tendency to not participate in government, but to let it over to the powers that be. That’s why Russian people are so passive politically. They want a dictatorship. Wherever you have a weak Christology you have a strong state. Watch that, those two are political opposites. Why do you suppose that’s so?
Let’s run that by one more time. Wherever you have a weak Christology you have a strong state. It’s who is Kurios, who is the Lord. If you have a big Lord Jesus, you’re not tempted to worship the state. But if Jesus is only a man on whom the Spirit of God came, and the Spirit of God works through providence, etc. there’s an open door to have the state because there’s no one else there in the power vacuum. So, “As an illustration, Arianism, the main heresy denying Jesus’ full divine nature, was consistently popular with statists. Rushdoony writes: ‘By denying that Christ is Lord and Savior, Arianism … had made the state man’s lord and savior, and the Arians were dedicated statists. The emperor, not Christ, His Word and the Church, was central to the Arians.”
“He also points out: ‘In its modern form, statist theology goes further. It not only ignores Christ and the church, it begins to deny their right to exist. A critical background is the issue of taxation. The modern state assumes the position of having a right to tax the church as a corpus politicum, and then magnanimously forgoes this right on the ground that the church is a charitable or non-profit institution. The hidden premise is that the church is under the state and exists by its permission.” See, we’re a political threat. The gospel is insidiously anti-state, and people who are conscious, half conscious of this, get upset. There’s something upsetting about the gospel of Christ when it’s preached in all the glory of the person of Christ. That is upsetting.
“Another issue is shown by an earlier dialogue between Pilate and Christ: Jesus says, ‘Everyone that is of the truth heareth my voice.’ Pilate [sarcastically said] ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:37-38).” So another feature of the Gentile mind, “on a deeper level than the issue of statism, less viable but more lethal, modern pagan thought amplifies Pilate’s remark, ‘what is truth?’” Follow me as I go through page 15, because this is what you will read in your local news magazines. Behind it all is this same theme. It’ll come out different, different people express it different ways, but watch it. “As architects of developed paganism, Gentile world leaders make all truth ultimately subjective.” That means it comes out of my heart, it’s what I think. You’ve all heard this, the man on the street knows this; they’re not philosophers but they buy into it, well that’s good for you, but this works for me. Excuse me! We don’t have truth then. There’s no truth, it’s whatever “works for you,” because I determine truth, it’s not external, there’s no standard, no yardstick, there’s no weights and measures, there’s nothing out there but I decide what the truth is.
“Truth to them is merely what one thinks is truth.” Get the difference. Truth now has become what men think it is. “Van Til describes the Greek fountainhead of this paganism. ‘Socrates discovered the principle of interpretation, which man ought best to follow, to lie within himself, in nous, rather than in water, in the indeterminate (aperion), in air or in anything else which was external to man. … Socrates possessed a voice which spoke to him, but its advice was actually internally consonant with his own consciousness; namely of the gods ever told him anything, he would by himself, of necessity be relegated the task of judging the truth or falsity thereof. The principle was an internal one.” Where is the standard of judgment, in me or external to me? What’s the ultimate authority?
“Such a view of truth makes any kind of historical, verbal revelation from God to man impossible.” Impossible! “Since all truth, according to this form of fleshly thinking, is ultimately subjective, one cannot reach real truth about God as Christ insists that one can do. Alan Richardson, for example, illustrates this kind of thinking.” We’ll get more into this as we go into the life of Christ, but watch it, because every university course that you will ever go to that talks about the Christian faith, and every social studies text book that talks about the Christian faith says the same thing, this is not some abstruse philosophical thing that only PhDs worry about. This stuff is in junior high school text books.
“ ‘The facts about the Jesus of history are accessible to us only through the apostles’ faith in him. The Gospel writers were not biographers or historians, and they chose to tell us only such things about the life and teaching of Jesus as seemed good to them to illuminate essential aspects of the church’s faith in Him.’ ” Do you get the flavor or that whole statement? Look at where the truth is coming from. The writers, “they chose to tell us only such things about the life and teaching of Jesus.” What does the New Testament say that shall come upon the disciples and will lead them to all truth? The Holy Spirit. Who’s the author of the New Testament? The Holy Spirit. Who decided what is in the canon and what isn’t in the canon? The Holy Spirit. There’s no Holy Spirit here, where is the spirit of truth, it’s in man. Alan Richardson is an English theologian, a liberal guy. If you look at the footnote you’ll see he wrote The Bible in an Age of Science. “And they chose to tell us only such things about the life and teaching of Jesus as seemed good to them,” they were the final criterion of what happened in the New Testament.
I put this statement in italics because it summarizes the whole point. “In this modern unbelieving though, statements about Jesus would be merely autobiographical testimony about what early Christians thought; they would not be statements about objective reality external to their thoughts.” In other words, it would be as though I am telling you that something is true outside, and we can’t get out of this room, so therefore I describe this thing that’s outside.
Each one of us, have our imaginative thoughts and ideas of what this thing is, we never go outside to see what it is because we can’t get out there. Do you see what would happen? Every one of us would give testimony, we could have a testimony meeting, everyone gets up and describes what’s on their hearts, their depraved, wicked, evil, perverted hearts. Who wants garbage? Without an external standard, you shouldn’t care what’s on my heart, nor should I care about what’s on your heart. What we should care about is, “What is truth?” In this case the only way we can tell what is truth is to go out the door and see it, because it exists outside of us. That’s what we’re saying. Modern unbelieving thought has no outside, it’s only what the church says, what somebody said, what Dr. So and So said, but there’s nothing there that’s real.
“Their views about Jesus would be more important in degree than what the early Christians ate and wore but are no different in kind. They all simply show ancient opinion and life.” That’s all the New Testament would do, it would just reflect ancient opinion in life. See where that leads us. Back with Pilate, what is truth?
What we’ve done is show where the people are peeling out, they have been confronted with the Lord Jesus Christ in His birth, His life, His death and His resurrection, and we’re going to see that every one of these events are misconstrued, absolutely misconstrued. If you want to read ahead on pages 16-17 I’ve summarized very quickly where we’re going, I take each of those four events and show you how the Christian interprets the event and how the unbeliever interprets the event. We need to know how unbelief operates. It’s all around us. It’s in our own hearts, because we’re not completely saved, completely sanctified. And because we’re not completely sanctified our flesh picks up and resonates with the world. So we have to identify where we can drift; it’s natural to the flesh to drift in these directions.
Question asked: Clough replies: The very fact that it looks like there is a vast popularity, Jesus was a popular figure, so when Caiaphas says what he says there, his premise is wrong but his second thing is right. The premise is the Romans are going to clobber us if we have an insurrection, which is false, because if everybody believed in Jesus, what would have happened? The Kingdom would have come, and the Romans wouldn’t have had a chance. So the premise is wrong, but given that premise and given the observation that He had vast popularity, given all that, it’s conceivable that Caiaphas would have had a big problem. There would have been some musical chairs politically in the whole thing. So it was true. Movements like that are deeply threatening. We have to appreciate this because otherwise we spin our wheels because we get angry as Christians because why is it that we get treated so abusively.
My son was substituting in school and he was telling us, he said you go down the halls in school, we’ve got posters for Hanukkah, posters for Kwanzaa or whatever it is, we’ve got everything in there except there’s not one about the Lord Jesus Christ. Excuse me! What is this holiday all about? It’s just absolutely 180 degrees wrong. This is so unbelievably stupid, but on the other hand we have to use the reverse psychology, if you get into a discussion like that, I’ve tried it once or twice and always get a very interesting response, say well if I were outside the Christian faith I’d be afraid of Christmas too, I can understand why you suppress it, it’s a very dangerous message. When you say that it’s not what they’re expecting, so it’s a great way of opening up a door by admitting that. And it’s going along with the fact that it truly is upsetting; the gospel is bad news if you intend to reject it, it’s not good news. So for that reason we have to get into the pagan Gentile mentality [to see] why Christ was such an issue.
But we do want to remember that there is a controversy of profound proportions that always accompanies the gospel. If you tend to be the kind of person, and I think we all are most of the time, we don’t want to upset people, we don’t want to constantly be toeing the line, constantly be the source of … you know, everybody is getting along till we walk in the room. You don’t want to be that kind of a person; none of us want to be that kind of a person. We shouldn’t be that kind of person just because of us, but there will come times when unavoidably we will be the people who just irritate everybody else. And we just have to be sure that they’re not being irritated at us, that they’re irritated at the Lord.
You will see as we go through event after event after event, after we go through the birth, we’re going to go through so many heresies, I think it’s four or five major heresies we’re going to deal with over the birth of Christ. The arguments over why He can’t be the God-man, why He wasn’t the God-man, why it’s impossible for Him to be the God-man. Those same arguments that were covered in the 1st century are the same arguments that float around today. Nothing has changed. I always believe in going back to where these arguments started and learning them well, learning the outlines, and then they always show up here and there in different forms, sometimes it’s green, sometimes it’s blue, sometimes it’s red but it’s basically the same thing coming up. Those are the things we want to see about.
Question asked: Clough replies: Absolutely. The point was it recapitulates what happened in the garden all over again. That’s why Genesis 3 is an extremely important text. It’s only about three or four verses in that Genesis 3, but you’ve got to go over them and over them until in your mind’s eye you can place yourself in Eve’s place, and sense what she and Adam sense, and see yourself doing that, because if you can, that illuminates the basic heart. It’s a question of the self-contained authority of God. God does not need to refer to authority outside of Himself. That’s why, although Jesus does confirm Himself, He says read the laws of Moses, etc. He does refer to Scripture.
The point is, however, that the Lord Jesus occasionally doesn’t, He says this is what I said, it’s right. That’s His deity showing when He does that. That’s the other thing that we’re going to learn about in the Gospels, is in certain passages His deity does not show; His humanity is showing though. If we were there with cameras and recorders, we’d swear this is just a man. His deity doesn’t show. Then at other times suddenly there’s a flash and His deity is there and then it’s gone again. It’s almost like the light comes on and then goes out. He’s God all the time but these things happen, that’s not a transfiguration. All of a sudden there He is in His glory, then it goes away, and then He goes down and is eating sandwiches with everybody.
We’re going to see that that’s not a sign of weakness, what that is is a sign that the God of the universe is so close to us, we are so made in His image, our hands are the perfect of tool of what it looks like when it says the arms and hands of God, not that these are God, but they are a finite replica of His hands. God could contain Himself in a human being and not feel constrained because He designed His own human being, so it’s an affirmation of the design of man. It’s a powerful, powerful thing, and it also is a living refutation of evolution, because if man is the only part of creation that is made in God’s image, then it follows that man is utterly distinct from every part of the other creation, and therefore there’s no continuity between man and non-man. All these things I think are sort of to encourage us in our faith of the basic framework of the Scripture.