|Topical Bible Study||July 1957|
The People of the Bible
Article XXVI—The Four Gospels
Jesus, the First and the Last
“I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.” —Revelation 22:13
IT HAS been said that Jesus is the center of history. Certainly he is the center of the divine plan of salvation which is revealed in the Bible. Jesus said to the Jews of his day, “Before Abraham was, I am”; that is, I existed. (John 8:58) Even before Adam was created, Jesus, as the Logos, the “Word,” was participating with his Heavenly Father in the works of creation. He was “the beginning of the creation of God.” (Rev. 3:14) He was the only direct creation of God, and as John testifies, “Without him was not anything made that was made.”—John 1:3
Although Jesus did not personally write any of the Bible, Revelation, the last book, written by the Apostle John, is introduced as “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Rev. 1:1) In next to the last verse of the Bible, Jesus speaks through the Apostle John, saying, “He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen.” Realizing that the second coming of Jesus would ultimately result in the glorious triumph of righteousness and the promised blessing of all mankind with health and life provided through Jesus’ work of redemption, John responded, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
The name Jesus signifies Savior. It is the Greek form of Jehoshua (Joshua). How appropriate is this name when we realize that Jesus came to be the Savior of all mankind—a savior from sin and from its penalty, death. The title “Christ,” as in Jesus Christ, signifies “anointed.” Applied to Jesus, it denotes that he is the One sent and authorized by Jehovah to fulfill all the wonderful promises recorded by the Old Testament prophets pertaining to the redemption and restoration of the world from sin and death.
It has been prophetically stated that the name of the anointed of God would be “Emmanuel,” which means, “God with us.” (Isa. 7:14; 8:8; Matt. 1:23) This, indeed, is properly one of Jesus’ titles, because he was, and will continue to be, God’s representative among mankind. John expressed the thought correctly when he wrote, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”—John 1:18
Jesus said concerning his Heavenly Father, “Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.” (John 5:37) This proves that the only way the people of Jesus’ day heard and saw Jehovah was through the example and teachings of Jesus. But Jesus did the works and spoke the words of his Heavenly Father; so properly the title Emmanuel belonged to him.—John 12:49
Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. God was his Father, in the sense that it was by divine power that the life principle of the Logos—one of Jesus’ titles, particularly during his prehuman existence—was transferred to the womb of Mary, and in due time Jesus as born as a human babe and became a man. Paul wrote concerning this that Jesus was “made in the likeness of men” and was “found in fashion as a man.”—Phil. 2:7,8
Jesus’ birth marked a division in the reckoning of time, so that now we have the B.C. and A.D. dates, meaning before and after Christ. This division of time, however, was not used until several hundred years after Christ. Even now this turning point in time is not wholly correct. According to accurate reckoning, the birth of Jesus occurred about one year and three months prior to the generally accepted date.
Jesus was born in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, one of the most important of which reads: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”—Isa. 9:6,7
Another prophecy, one which identifies Jesus’ birthplace, reads, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be Ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from old, from everlasting.”—Micah 5:2
These prophecies clearly revealed that this Great One who was to be born was destined to be a king, a ruler, that he would set up a government which ultimately would be world-wide in its control over mankind. Thus John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus, when announcing his presence, said, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” or, more properly translated, “The Royal Majesty of the heavens has approached.”—Matt. 3:2, Emphatic Diaglott
Much of Jesus’ own teachings were associated with this hope of the kingdom. Many of his parables were introduced by the statement, “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto.” His disciples thoroughly believed that he would establish a kingdom in Judea and that they would be associated with him in that kingdom.
When, near the close of Jesus’ ministry, the disciples became disturbed over the fact that he intended to surrender to his enemies and allow them to put him to death, Jesus related a parable to them concerning a nobleman who went into a far country, to receive a kingdom and to return. This parable was designed to help the disciples understand that the kingdom they expected Jesus to establish must await his return as his second advent.
It has been truthfully said of Jesus that no other life has so profoundly influenced the course of the world. This is yet to be still more wonderfully true. Up to the present time much has been said and done in the name of Jesus which has been a discredit to him and contrary to the principles of righteousness which he taught and exemplified. It probably could be said that the life and teachings of Jesus have been more misrepresented and distorted than those of any other person.
The fact that Jesus came to be a king has been used by ambitious and misguided men to establish themselves in power in his name. This was done—and contrary to Jesus’ teachings—through the church-state governments of Europe. These governments, it was claimed, were in reality the kingdom of Christ, in that he was ruling through the civil and ecclesiastical heads of these governments.
Throughout the many centuries when these corrupt systems flourished, there was almost continual strife between various factions. This has left on the pages of history a bloody record of crime, war, persecution, inquisition, and other evils which are utterly contrary to the spirit and teachings of Jesus, although they were perpetrated in his name.
In his Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, Jesus foretold this growth of evil in his name. The good seed of this parable, Jesus explained, pictured “the children of the kingdom,” that is, those who were begotten with the hope of his return and with the expectation that they would then reign with him in his kingdom.
But there was to be another seed—the tares. Jesus explained that these represented “the children of the wicked one.” This does not mean that they were to be wicked, immoral people, but simply that they would come under the influence of Satan’s counterfeit kingdom of Christ and lend themselves to its support.
Satan attempted to obtain Jesus’ support for a similar scheme. He told the Master that if he would fall down and worship him, he would give him all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus knew that in his Heavenly Father’s due time and way all the nations of the earth would be brought under his control, and he did not propose to accept them on the Devil’s terms.
But some, losing sight of the divine plan for setting up a world government, yielded to Satan’s temptation. They joined hands with the state and called the union Christ’s kingdom—Christendom. We mention this in order that we may have clearly in mind that, while Jesus’ influence has indeed been practically worldwide and while this one marvelous life of his influenced the course of history as none other has ever done, much that has been ascribed to him has been a discredit to him and diametrically opposed to his teachings and example.
His Sympathy and Love
In contrast with the cruelties practiced in Jesus’ name during the Dark Ages, we find the Master himself a man of tender sympathy and self-sacrificing love. In Acts 10:38 we read of Jesus that he “went about doing good” and that he healed all who “were oppressed of the Devil.” His heart went out in loving sympathy to those who suffered. Standing beside the tomb of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, and realizing that these two sisters were brokenhearted over the death of their brother, “Jesus wept.”—John 11:35
The way of life taught and exemplified by Jesus is one of kindness, of nobility, of love. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the real blessedness of meekness, humility, purity of heart, and mercifulness. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” he said, “for they shall be called the children of God.”—Matt. 5:1-12
To the extent that men and women have been influenced by these precepts, they have been ennobled. Communities and nations have been happier places in which to live when these principles have been adopted and sincerely practiced. To whatever extent the world has been influenced by them, it has been a better world.
The Divine Image
Our first parents were created in the image of God and in their original perfection must indeed have been virtuous and noble. In the noble and upright of the world even now we can see traces of the original divine likeness still remaining. But in what rich abundance they must have been exemplified in Jesus, the perfect counterpart of the “first man Adam”! Of Jesus it is written that he was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners.”—Heb. 7:26
Toward the close of his ministry Jesus said to his disciples: “If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him. Philip saith unto him, Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.”—John 14:7-9
Jesus, like Adam, was the image of God, and with him that image was unmarred, unsullied, radiant, full. Every lovely trait of character seen in Jesus was just that much of a reflection of the Heavenly Father. It was the image of God in Jesus that caused him to be the noble character that he was. His every thought, word, and act reflected the characteristics of his Father. This was so completely true that Jesus could say, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.”
This was true not only with respect to Jesus’ personal purity and nobility of character, but it was exemplified also in his teachings. He said, “I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak.” (John 12:49) Again, “The word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.”—John 14:24
Thus Jesus stands separate from and above all the other servants of God who make up “the people of the Bible.” In its straightforward manner of presenting the truth, the Bible records both the virtues and the failings of its heroes. Jesus had no failings. By reason of the miraculous manner in which his life as the Logos was transferred to earth, he was born into the world untainted with the imperfections of the adamic race.
Thus Jesus stands wholeheartedly in harmony with his Father’s purpose in sending him into the world. So completely was this true that he could say, “I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30) He came to do the Father’s will, and he permitted nothing, not even life itself, to interfere with his divine mission.
The Divine Purpose
Hebrews 2:9 reads, “We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” Jesus knew that his ministry would be crowned with victory only through his faithfulness in laying down his life in sacrifice for the sins of the world. This great objective of his being “made flesh” governed his entire course of action. And even for us it serves as a background which helps to interpret much of what he said and did.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) When saying this, however, Jesus knew that he could be the life-giver of mankind only because he would give his human life as the redemptive price for the lost world. So, on another occasion, he said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”—John 6:51
Jesus realized, however, that there was a “due time” in his Father’s plan for him to die. Until that time he did not recklessly expose himself to danger. But finally the hour for his supreme sacrifice drew near, and we find him voluntarily putting himself in a position of danger.
The circumstances are most interesting. Jesus was in Galilee to avoid somewhat his enemies. (John 7:1) Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, became ill. This little family that lived in Bethany was much loved by Jesus. The brother’s illness was fatal, and after his death Jesus announced to his disciples that he was returning to Bethany to awaken Lazarus.
They understood the dangers involved in returning and said to Jesus: “Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if any man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him.”—John 11:8-10
Jesus’ reference to there being twelve hours in the day and to stumbling in the darkness of night seems to indicate his understanding that his “day” was rapidly drawing to a close and that his “night” was coming when he could work no longer. Later, in connection with his arrest in Gethsemane, he said to the chief priests and captains of the temple and the elders, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22:53) In that mountainous country “stumbling” in the darkness could well be a reference to the loss of life.
In any event, Jesus knew that the time was nearing for him to die, so he did not hesitate to return to a location where he was sure his enemies were lying in wait to find occasion against him and kill him. His disciples knew of this danger, and Thomas said to the others, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”—John 11:16
And Jesus was crucified only a short time after he returned from Bethany and raised Lazarus from the dead. Indeed, it was this very miracle that helped to incense his enemies into a bitterness intense enough to cause them to take murderous action against him. Jesus realized that this would happen, but he did not let it deter him from taking a course that would lead to his death; for it was for this cause that he came into the world. Only if he gave his flesh for the life of the world would the world have life.
Later, after his arrest, Jesus said or did nothing to interfere with the wicked purpose of his jealous enemies to have him hung upon a cross and killed. When asked by the high priest if he claimed to be the Son of God, Jesus replied, “Thou hast said.” (Matt. 26:64) He knew that this reply would be misconstrued as blasphemy and that as a result the religious rulers of Israel would judge him worthy of death.
When brought before Pilate and accused of being a king, he affirmed the charge, saying to his Roman ruler, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.” (John 18:37) When hanging upon the cross and hearing the crowd cry out, “If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross,” he did nothing about it. (Matt. 27:40) At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was tempted by the Devil to prove his divine sonship by casting himself from the pinnacle of the temple. He did not yield then to temptation, nor did he yield when the same Adversary, working through the mob, called upon him to prove his sonship by coming down from the cross.
Jesus had come into the world to die as man’s Redeemer. It was on the cross that this sacrifice was consummated. He took the sinner’s place so completely that for one brief awful moment the smile of his Father’s approval was hidden from him, and in agony he said, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) A few moments later, he cried out, “It is finished,” and committed his life to his God—“Into thy hands I commend my spirit.”—John 19:30; Luke 23:46
The Resurrected Jesus
On the third day the Heavenly Father raised his beloved Son from the dead. (Luke 24:5-7; I Pet. 1:21) He had given his life as a ransom, a corresponding price for Adam and his race, and now all power was given unto him “in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18) in order that he might, in God’s due time and way, set into motion those agencies through which the life he had made available by his death might be extended to mankind.
First there was a need to establish the fact that he had been raised from the dead. Concerning this Peter later said: “Him [Jesus] God raised up the third day, and showed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.”—Acts 10:40-42
Peter’s statement concerning Jesus, “He commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify,” refers to another aspect of the divine purpose which was initiated by Jesus; namely, the calling out of the world of a company of disciples who would be willing to share in his suffering and death, inspired by the hope of being raised from the dead to live and reign with him in his kingdom.
This little company the Bible refers to as the “church,” meaning “called out” ones. Jesus’ apostles were the first of these to be selected, and in future chapters we will review the lives of these in their association with Jesus, as well as their later experiences, when, in faithfulness to the commission their Master gave them, they laid down their lives testifying that it was he “which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead.”
The expression “quick and dead” refers to those of the adamic race whom we speak of as being alive—even though they are still under condemnation to death and dying—and those who are in the sleep of death. After his resurrection Jesus said, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”—Rev. 1:18
During his second visit Jesus uses these “keys” to unlock the great prison house of death and set its captives free. The church will be exalted to the divine nature to live and reign with him. The world will be placed on probation to determine worthiness or unworthiness of everlasting life on earth.
He who was the first and the last of God’s direct creation, the One who throughout the age has been the Counselor and Advocate of the church, the One who from the time of his creation was the “Logos” of God, promised to “come quickly,” as John wrote at the beginning of the age. (Rev. 22:20) Now, “the first and the last” has come. (Rev. 1:17) This means that the great and glorious kingdom promised by God’s holy prophets is shortly to be inaugurated in power and great glory, for the blessing of all the families of the earth.