The Book of Books—Part 9

The Deliverer Comes—Part 1

BEGINNING with the New Testament section of the Book of Books, the great plan of God for the redemption and restoration of mankind from sin and death is seen to move forward into a new phase. From the time our first parents were sentenced to death down to Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophetic writers, God continued to remind his people of his purpose to send a Deliverer, one who would be both a redeemer and ultimately a ruler, a king, to govern the world in righteousness. However, in all this time there was no substantial evidence that these promises would ever be fulfilled.

It is the New Testament that unfolds the story of the coming of the seed of promise, the one concerning whom Isaiah wrote saying that the “government” would be upon his “shoulder.” (Isa. 9:6) Speaking through Jesus and the New Testament writers, the Lord continued to make promises concerning the future blessing of the people, but now, in addition, many of the wonderful promises of the Old Testament were being fulfilled.

The first four books of the New Testament record the life and teachings of Jesus, presenting him as the great Messiah of promise. These books are known as the four Gospels, so named because they present the good news of Jesus’ birth, and through the teachings of Jesus reveal further the divine design for redemption, the call of the church, and later the recovery of the lost race from death. The writers were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, each compiling one of these first four books of the New Testament.

In the great theme of the Bible, which began with God’s forecast that the seed of the woman would bruise the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15), the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are fundamentally important factors. In God’s providence, the vital truths pertaining thereto have been clearly set forth by the godly men who wrote the four Gospels. To some extent these four historical books are repetitious, but there is much in each of them that does not appear in the others.

Since all four of the Gospels pertain to Jesus and his ministry, we will examine their united testimony, rather than consider each book separately. This, we believe, will help us to understand better the purpose of these books, and the important part they play in the unfolding of the divine plan. Their principal purpose is, of course, to identify Jesus as the one God had sent into the world, first to redeem mankind from the original penalty of death imposed upon our first parents because of their sin, and later to establish a kingdom on earth to be the agency through which the redeemed world might return to God and live forever.

The Forerunner of Jesus

We learned from the last book of the Old Testament that there would be a messenger, a forerunner of Jesus, who would announce his presence. The Prophet Isaiah also foretold the coming of this one who would be as a “voice crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” (Isa. 40:3) Matthew, in chapter three; Mark, in chapter one, verses 1-11; Luke, in chapter one, verses 5-80, identify John the Baptist as the one who fulfilled these prophecies concerning the one who would prepare the way of the Lord.

The Apostle John also reveals that John the Baptist was the foretold forerunner of Jesus. (John 1:15-34) In Isaiah’s prophecy of the coming of Jesus to be the redeemer of the world, he likens him to a lamb who would be led to the slaughter. When introducing Jesus, John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.”—vs. 29

The Logos Made Flesh

But Jesus could not take away the sin of the world if he himself were a sinner. The psalmist wrote that no one, that is, no member of the sin-cursed and dying race, could redeem his brother or give to God a ransom for him. (Ps. 49:7) It was necessary, therefore, that the promised redeemer, while partaking of human nature, be not a partaker of the sin of condemned humanity. So John, in the opening chapter of his Gospel, emphasizes that Jesus had a pre-human existence, that he was the Son of God before coming to earth, and that he was made flesh.

Unfortunately, the translators of the King James Version of the Bible have failed to present the correct thought concerning Jesus’ pre-human existence. They have made it appear that the Father and the Son are the same person. But, a correct rendering of the Greek text in this first chapter of John’s Gospel reveals that the “Word”—Logos in the Greek text—the Son of God who was made flesh, was “a” God, or mighty One, while the Heavenly Father was “the” God, the Almighty One. It was the Almighty God speaking to his Son, the Logos, in the statement, “Let us make man in our image.”—Gen. 1:26

While John simply furnishes this general information that Jesus did not have an earthly father, Luke records some of the details as to the manner in which he was made flesh. It is in the Book of Luke that we are told of his mother, Mary’s miraculous conception of Jesus, and of the birth of Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem. (Luke 1:24-35; 2:1-20) Matthew also makes mention of the miraculous conception of Jesus.—Matt. 1:18-25

One of the best known passages in the Bible is Luke’s record of the angelic announcement to the shepherds of the birth of Jesus. “Fear not,” the angel said, “for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”—Luke 2:10-14

Birth of the Savior

“Unto you,” the angel said, “the Savior, the Christ, is born.” Until this time, the people of God had only his promises upon which to rest their faith. Now these promises were beginning to come true. The Promised One had appeared—born in Bethlehem, just as the Prophet Micah had foretold. Micah had explained concerning this one that “his goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Mic. 5:2) This language indicates the pre-human existence of Jesus, a fact as we have seen, which is emphasized by the three writers, Matthew, Luke, and John.

Matthew records an incident in the childhood life of Jesus which is significant; namely, an attempted attack on his life by King Herod, in which he endeavored to use the wise men who had come from the East to visit the newborn king. (Matt. 2:1-15) In the Garden of Eden, when God said that the serpent’s head would be bruised through the instrumentality of a seed, he also explained that he would place enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman—the Christ. It seems obvious that since Jesus was born to be the seed God had promised, Herod’s attempt to destroy the child was instigated by the serpent, who in reality is Satan, the Devil. It was a manifestation of the foretold enmity.

Childhood Experiences

Due to King Herod’s animosity against any possible rival to his place of authority in the nation, God warned Joseph and Mary to flee into Egypt and take the child with them for safety. This also had been foretold in the Old Testament. (Hos. 11:1) When Herod died, they returned to their home in Nazareth.

When Jesus was twelve years old, Joseph and Mary took him with them to Jerusalem where they went to participate in the feast of the Passover. When starting on the homeward journey, they discovered that the boy was not with them, and upon hunting they found him in the Temple, “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.”—Luke 2:46

His mother chided him gently for not remaining with them, and he replied, “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49) He referred to his Heavenly Father. Probably his mother had related to him more than once the miraculous circumstances of his birth, and from this Jesus would know that he was in the world on a most important mission, so was concerned with learning what he could about it, and when he should enter upon his ministry.

The brief record given by Luke of necessity omits mention of the information received by Jesus from the doctors of the Law. Through Moses, the Lord had ruled that no one was eligible to serve as priest in the Tabernacle until he was at least thirty years of age. (Num. 4:3,23,30,35,39,43,47) Evidently Jesus was informed of this, for Luke tells us that he returned to Nazareth and became subject to Joseph and Mary. In chapter three, verses two to twenty-three, we learn that it was when Jesus “began to be about thirty” that he was immersed by John the Baptist and entered upon his ministry.

The ministry of John the Baptist was designed to lead people to repent of their sins, and his baptism in water was a symbol of this desire of the sinner. He was therefore puzzled when Jesus came to him and asked to be baptized. He said to Jesus, “I have need to be baptized of thee.” (Matt. 3:14) Jesus replied, “Suffer [permit] it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.”—Matt. 3:15

Why Baptized?

Jesus was not a sinner. He did not need to be baptized as a symbol of being cleansed from sin. For him to be immersed in water represented the burial of his will and his complete dedication to do the will of his Heavenly Father. Matthew informs us that “Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he [John] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”—Matt. 3:16,17; John 1:32

We are not to suppose from this that there was a parting in the literal heavens through which his Heavenly Father’s voice was heard. Here is another of the Bible’s beautiful symbols, the heavens, being used to indicate spiritual enlightenment, or discernment. Jesus had here presented himself to God to do his will, and it was essential that the divine will be revealed to him in order that he might conduct his ministry in harmony with his Heavenly Father’s loving designs.

In Luke 3:21 we are given additional information concerning this, being informed that it was while Jesus was praying that the heavens were opened to him. Luke does not indicate the nature of this prayer, but in Psalm 40:7,8, we find a prophetic prayer which applies to Jesus, and is probably the one which was in his heart and upon his lips at this time. It reads, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God.”

This is a prayer of dedication in which Jesus expresses his desire to do all that had been written concerning him in the volume of the book. This is a reference to the Old Testament Scriptures, to those portions in which, through the prophets, the Heavenly Father had charted the course Jesus was to take in laying down his life for the sins of the world. Jesus dedicated himself to the doing of the things which had been written, for he knew that in these prophecies his Heavenly Father’s will had been expressed.

And it was when he thus surrendered himself to do God’s will, that the heavens were opened to him. The thought is that the meaning of those Old Testament directives were now revealed to him. When in the Temple at the age of twelve he had endeavored to learn the nature of his mission, and no doubt he learned it was not God’s due time then to begin his ministry. Now the time had come, and the heavens were opened to him.

This is shown to have been accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit which then came upon Jesus. The prophets had written their messages under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but to them the Spirit did not serve to reveal the meaning of what they wrote; but it did come to Jesus as a revealing power. Thereby his mind was illuminated to understand God’s will for him, and it gave him strength in the face of the severest difficulties to faithfully perform it.

The King Must First Die

In the Old Testament books, there are many prophecies which foretold the suffering and death of Jesus. The sacrifice of Israel’s Passover lamb pointed forward to Jesus as the “Lamb of God” which would be led to the “slaughter.” (Isa. 53:7) Many of the animal sacrifices offered in the Tabernacle services, the details of which are related in the Book of Leviticus, were also typical of the sacrificial phase of Jesus’ ministry. When the heavens were opened to Jesus he understood all this, and he knew he was to sacrifice his humanity in death, or, as he stated it to his disciples, give his “flesh” for the “life of the world.”—John 6:51

This important truth, which Jesus now so clearly understood from the Old Testament Scriptures, served as a guiding light throughout his entire earthly ministry. He knew, also, that he was destined to be a great king, and that in God’s due time his kingdom would hold sway throughout the whole earth. But first he must die to redeem the subjects of his coming kingdom from death so that he would not reign over a dying race, but a living one.

Immediately after his baptism, Jesus was “led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil.” (Matt. 4:1) Three major temptations were presented to Jesus, all of them designed to swerve him from his determination to do his Heavenly Father’s will and to work in harmony with the divine plan for the redemption and recovery of the human race from sin and death.

First Satan suggested that Jesus use his miracle-working power to turn stones into bread in order to satisfy his hunger. This at the time was a severe temptation; for Jesus had been fasting for forty days. Jesus knew that the power of the Holy Spirit, which he had received, enabled him to perform miracles; but he knew also, that he was not to use this power for his own benefit, that it was given to him solely for the benefit of others, so he refused to yield to this temptation. He replied to Satan by quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures—“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”—Matt. 4:4

Matthew reports that “then the Devil taketh him [Jesus] up into the holy city, and setteth him upon a pinnacle of the Temple; and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down: for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.” (Matt. 4:5,6) When Jesus was baptized, he heard the voice of his Father saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17) He had no need that this fact be demonstrated by his Heavenly Father’s protection when exposing himself to needless danger. We could consider this a subtle effort by Satan to destroy the seed of promise. But Jesus did not yield to the temptation; instead, he again answered the tempter with a quotation from the Old Testament, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.”—Matt. 4:7

Finally, “the Devil taketh him [Jesus] up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” (Matt. 4:8,9) From the prophecies and promises of the Old Testament, Jesus knew that he was destined to be a king, that eventually his dominion would be “from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.” (Ps. 2:6-12; 72:8) But Jesus also knew that before he could be the foretold King of kings, he must die as the redeemer of the world; and to make any move that would lead to his exaltation as king without the necessity of his sacrifice and death would be contrary to the divine plan. So again he replied to his tempter with a quotation from the Old Testament: “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”—Matt. 4:10

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