Friday, March 12, 2010

Bab 3 A Passover Plot?

The prophecies concerning the second major theme of the Bible, the coming of the Messiah, are even more numerous and detailed than those pertaining to Israel. These prophecies have also been dealt with at some length in my previous books, so we will only summarize a few of them briefly here. Even the most anti-Christian critics who deny categorically that Jesus of Nazareth is the Savior of the world admit that many specific messianic prophecies were fulfilled in His life and crucifixion. In the attempt to explain away the significance of that fact some bizarre theories have been invented.

Typical of such attempts was a book and movie (neither very successful) some years back entitled The Passover Plot. Its thesis was that Jesus, knowing some of the messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, conspired with Judas to fulfill them in order to make it appear that He was the promised Messiah.

Irreconcilable Contradiction?

Obviously it would have been ludicrous for Jesus to get Himself crucified in order to convince a small band of uneducated, inept followers that He was the Christ.

In fact, neither His disciples nor any other Jew, including even John the Baptist, could believe (though the prophecies were clear, as Christ explained often) that the Messiah was to be crucified. His death rather seemed proof that he was not the Messiah, so fulfilling the prophecies concerning His crucifixion to the letter, as He did, would not have been the way to gather a following. In fact, Christ's death in fulfillment of Scripture was in order to pay the penalty for our sins.

The prophecies concerning His death (Psalm 22:16; Isaiah 53:5,8-10,12; Zechariah 12:10; etc.) were avoided by the Jews as impenetrable mysteries because they seemed totally at odds with other prophecies declaring plainly that the Messiah would ascend David's throne and rule over a magnificent kingdom. How could the Messiah establish a kingdom and a peace that would never end (Isaiah 9:7) and yet be rejected and crucified by His own people? It seemed impossible for both to be true, so the Jewish interpreters simply ignored what didn't seem to make sense to them.

That the Jews were able to crucify Jesus was the final triumphant proof to the rabbis, and it served as the disappointing but undeniable evidence to the Jewish masses and His most devoted disciples that Jesus of Nazareth couldn't possibly have been the Messiah. The prophesied messianic kingdom had not been established, nor had He brought peace to Israel by delivering her from her enemies, so at best He could only have been a well-meaning impostor, and at worst a deliberate fraud. Such remains the argument of most Jews today.

There was, however, one way to reconcile the apparent contradiction: The Messiah had to come twice, the first time to die for man's sins, the second time to reign on the Davidic throne. But even when Jesus explained that fact ahead of time, no one could understand it. It would take His resurrection to open blind eyes.

Beyond a Mere Man

Yes, there were a few prophecies which Jesus of Nazareth could have conspired with Judas or others to fulfill. Most prophecies, however, were beyond the control of any mere man. For example, being born in Bethlehem and of the seed of David were major requirements for the Messiah. The timing of the Messiah's birth, too, as foretold was obviously beyond the influence of any ordinary mortal. His birth had to occur before the scepter departed from Judah (Genesis 49:10), while the temple was standing (Malachi 3:1), while the genealogical records were available to prove His lineage (2 Samuel 7:12; Psalm 89; etc.), and shortly before the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed (Daniel 9:26).

There was a narrow window of time during which the Messiah had to come-and He did. As the apostle Paul, a former rabbi, so eloquently put it, "But when the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman [i.e. virgin born]. .." (Galatians 4:4). It is too late for the Messiah to make His first appearance now. There can only be a second coming, as the Bible declares. Yet the Jews still await the first appearing of the one whom they will imagine is their Messiah but who will in fact be the Antichrist.

The scepter departed from Judah about A.D. 7, when the rabbis lost the right to exact the death penalty. This right was crucial to the practice of their religion because death was the penalty for certain religious offenses. When Pilate told the rabbis he wanted nothing to do with Jesus and for them to judge Him themselves, they replied, "It is not lawful for us to put any man to death" (John 18:31). The Messiah had to be born before that power was lost, and He had to be put to death afterward, for He was not to die by stoning, the Jews' manner of execution, but by Roman crucifixion. Amazingly, His crucifixion was prophesied centuries before that means of execution was even known: "They pierced my hands and my feet" (Psalm 22:16).

Obviously, too, the Messiah had to be born while the genealogical records still existed, or there could be no proof that He was of the seed of David. Those records were lost with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70, an event which both Daniel (in 9:26) and Christ prophesied (Matthew 24:2). Since then it has been too late for the Messiah to come, though the majority of Jews still await His first advent. Christians, on the other hand, expect the second coming, which also was foretold by the Hebrew prophets.

Amazing Fulfillments

Had Jesus conspired to fulfill the prophecies, He would have had to bribe Pilate to condemn the two thieves to be crucified with Him in fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9. He also would have had to know what soldiers would be on duty that day in order to bribe them ahead of time to divide His clothes among them and gamble for His robe (Psalm 22:18), to give Him vinegar to drink mingled with gall (Psalm 69:21), and to pierce His side with a spear (Zechariah 12:10) instead of breaking His legs as was the custom, but which could not be done to the Messiah (Exodus 12:46; Psalm 34:20).

Were the rabbis also part of the plot? Was that why they paid Judas exactly 30 pieces of silver to betray Him as prophesied by Zechariah (11:12), then used the money to buy a "potter's field" for burying strangers when Judas threw it down at their feet in the temple, again as foretold (Zechariah 11:13)? Is that why they crucified Him precisely when the Passover lambs were being slain all over Israel, in fulfillment of Exodus 12:6? The "Passover plot" scenario becomes increasingly ridiculous the more one examines it.

Where did Jesus get the money to pay off the multitude that lined the road into Jerusalem and hailed Him as the Messiah when He rode in on a donkey-the last beast one would expect a triumphant king to choose-precisely as foretold in Zechariah 9:9? It was Nisan 10 (April 6), A.D. 32, the very day the prophets had declared that this amazing event would occur-483 years to the day (69 weeks of years as Daniel 9:25 foretold it) after Nehemiah, in the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus (A.D. 465-425) had received (on Nisan 1, 445 B.C.) authority to rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:1)! The fulfillment by Jesus of these and many other messianic prophecies in minute detail cannot be explained away.

Missing Body, Empty Tomb

Furthermore, if Jesus had successfully "plotted" to get Himself crucified on the precise date and time that was prophesied-in spite of the determination of the rabbis to the contrary (Matthew 26:5; Mark 14:2)-Jesus still had to rise from the dead. No "Passover plot," no matter how many conspirators were involved, could accomplish that! A fake "resurrection" wouldn't be sufficient basis for His followers to launch Christianity. Only if He really died and came back to life would they have the motivation and courage to proclaim His gospel in the face of persecution and martyrdom.

Roman soldiers didn't sleep on duty. Had they done so while the disciples had stolen the body, they would have been on crosses the next day, and so would the disciples for their crime in breaking the Roman seal on the tomb. And if the disciples had stolen the body and somehow managed to keep it a secret, why would they die for a lie? They were such cowards that none of them had been willing to die for what they had once believed to be the truth. Yet they almost all went to their deaths as martyrs, declaring to the very end that they were eyewitnesses of the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead. None of them tried to save his life in exchange for revealing where the body had been hidden. There is simply no way to explain the undeniably empty tomb except by resurrection.

Neither Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, nor any of the world's other religions makes any pretense that its founder is still alive. For Christianity, however, the resurrection is the very heart of its gospel. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then the whole thing is a fraud. Nor did Jesus tell His disciples to go to far-off Siberia or South Africa to preach His resurrection where no one could challenge that claim. He told them to begin in Jerusalem, where, had He not risen from the dead, a short walk to the grave just outside the city wall could have proven that He was still dead. How the rabbis and Roman rulers would have loved to discredit Christianity before it could gather momentum! The surest way would have been to put the dead body of Jesus on display, but they could not. The closely guarded grave was suddenly empty!

Enter Saul of Tarsus

The proofs for the resurrection are numerous and irrefutable, but having dealt with them elsewhere we will mention only one-a proof often overlooked. That Christ had indeed risen from the dead is the only explanation for the fact that Saul of Tarsus, the chief enemy of Christianity, became its chief apostle. A popular young rabbi, Saul was on his way to great honors for his leadership role in pursuing this aberrant sect with arrest, imprisonment, and martyrdom. Then suddenly he became one of the despised and persecuted Christians himself, and for this he was repeatedly arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. On one occasion he was even stoned and left for dead. Finally he was beheaded. This stunning turnabout made no sense ... unless.

Why voluntarily trade popularity for suffering and eventual martyrdom? Paul explained that he had met the resurrected Christ, and that the One who had died for the sins of the world was alive and had revealed Himself to him. That testimony, however, was not sufficient in itself to prove that Christ was indeed alive. Something more was needed.

No one could doubt Paul's sincerity. That was demonstrated by his willingness to suffer and even die for Christ. A sincere belief, however, that Christ was alive was not sufficient proof. It was possible that Paul had hallucinated and simply imagined that Christ had appeared to him and spoken to him and was indeed alive.

The Roman governors Felix and Festus, as well as King Agrippa, heard Paul's account of this supernatural encounter and were convinced that he was sincere but deluded (Acts 2426). That explanation, however, did not fit the facts. Paul's sudden intimacy with Christ's teachings provided proof of the resurrection that could not be explained away by any means.

Conclusive Evidence

Paul, who had not known Christ before He was crucified, was suddenly the chief authority on what Christ had privately taught His inner circle of disciples. He had to have met Him! The apostles, who had been personally instructed by Christ for several years, had to acknowledge that their onetime enemy, Paul, without consulting any of them, knew all that Christ had taught them, and indeed had even deeper insights than they. When Paul rebuked Peter for going astray, the latter submitted to the correction (Galatians 2:11-14).

"I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you" (1 Corinthians 11:23) was how Paul began his explanation to the Corinthian church of what happened at the Last Supper and what Christ had taught His disciples on that occasion. Yet Paul had not been present, nor had he consulted any of those who had been there. "I conferred not with flesh and blood; neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me, but I went into Arabia" (Galatians 1:16,17) was Paul's sworn testimony. That he was suddenly the chief apostle and authority on what Christ had taught could be explained in no other way than that he had been instructed by the resurrected Christ, exactly as he claimed.

Without consulting any of those who had been Christ's disciples during His earthly ministry, Paul had become the chief authority on Christian doctrine, as all the church had to acknowledge. He wrote most of the New Testament epistles. "I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not of man. For I neither received it of man neither was I taught it but by the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11,12) was Paul's solemn testimony. There is no other explanation than that Christ had indeed been resurrected and had personally instructed Paul.

Reason for Confidence

The fulfillment of the prophecies mentioned above as well as scores of others in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ prove beyond any possible doubt that He is the Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the world. No one can examine the facts and remain an honest doubter. Those who refuse to believe in the face of such overwhelming evidence are without excuse.

We have taken these few pages to establish the validity of biblical prophecy for a purpose. Having seen that what the Bible prophesied concerning past events was fulfilled with 100 percent accuracy, we have valid reason for believing that what it tells us concerning the future will likewise be fulfilled.

With confidence, then, we can now consider the insight into the future given to us in Revelation 17 and 18 and address the important question of the identity of the woman riding the beast. First of all, our attention must be directed to the beast itself.

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