How was Jesus’ name prophesied long before his birth?

Sign of the Branch Part 2: The Branch named ‘Jesus’ hundreds of years beforehand

In Part 1 we saw how Isaiah started a theme using the image of The Branch. Someone coming from the fallen dynasty of David, possessing wisdom and power was predicted by Isaiah to come. Jeremiah followed on this theme by stating that this Branch would be known as the LORD (ie as in the Old Testament personal name for God) himself.

Zechariah continues The Branch

zechariah in historical old testament timelineZechariah lived 520 BC, just after the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem from their first expulsion into Babylon, but while they were being ruled by the Persians. At that time the Jewish people were working to rebuild their destroyed temple and re-institute the Mosaic religious system. Zechariah’s contemporary was a man named Joshua, who was High Priest at that time, and was working to re-start the whole priestly system. Zechariah the prophet was working in tandem with his colleague Joshua the High Priest to provide leadership for the Jewish people. Here is what the LORD – through Zechariah- in a prophetic riddle, said of this Joshua:

‘”Listen O High Priest Joshua and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant the Branch. See the stone I have set in front of Joshua!” …, says the LORD Almighty, “and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day”.’ (Zechariah 3:8-9)

The Branch! Again! Building on the image started by Isaiah about 200 years before, and continued by Jeremiah 60 years earlier, Zechariah picks up this theme of ‘The Branch’. But this time the Branch is also called ‘my servant’.  In some way the High Priest Joshua in Jerusalem at 520BC, colleague of Zechariah, was symbolic of this coming Branch, but in what way? It says that in ‘a single day’ the sins will be removed by the LORD (“I will remove…”). This connects with obtaining ‘righteousness’ noted in the previous post. We will gain ‘righteousness’ by having the LORD remove our sins ‘in a single day’. How will that happen?

The Branch: Uniting Priest with King

We continue on three chapters in Zechariah and learn something astounding. To understand the following prophetic riddle, we need to know that the roles of Priest and King were strictly separated in the Old Testament. None of the Davidic Kings could be priests (some of them got into trouble by trying), and conversely, some of the priests got in trouble by dabbling in kingly intrigue. The job of the priest was to mediate between God and man by offering animal sacrifices to God for forgiveness of sins, and the job of the King was to rule with justice from the throne. Both were crucial; both were distinct. Yet Zechariah wrote that in the future:

‘The word of the LORD came to me: “…Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest Joshua. Tell him this is what the LORD Almighty says, ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the LORD… and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two’’ (Zechariah 6:9-13)

Once again our Branch is here. But now, against all previous precedence, the high priest in Zechariah’s day (Joshua) is to (symbolically) put on the kingly crown. Remember that in Zechariah 3 (above) Joshua was ‘symbolic of things to come’. Could it be that Joshua, the High Priest, in putting on the crown was ‘symbolic’ of a coming merger of the Kingly and Priestly roles? Into one person? And notice that Joshua, his very name, is the name of the Branch. What did that mean?

The name ‘Joshua’ IS the name ‘Jesus’

To understand this we need to review how the Old Testament was translated through history. I have written how around 250 BC the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek. This translation is today still in use and is called the Septuagint (or LXX). We saw that the title ‘Christ’ was first used in this Greek translation, and that ‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’. (If you do not follow this please review here since this is crucial to what will follow).

'Joshua' = 'Jesus'. Both come from the Hebrew name 'Yhowshuwa'

‘Joshua’ = ‘Jesus’. Both come from the Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’

In exactly the same way we can follow the derivations of the name ‘Joshua’. As you can see in the figure above Joshua is an English transliteration of the original Hebrew name ‘Yhowshuwa’ which was a common Hebrew name that meant ‘Jehovah saves’.  This (shown in Quadrant #1) is how Zechariah wrote his name in 520 BC.  This word was transliterated to ‘Joshua’ when the Old Testament was rendered into English (bottom half labelled #3). The translators of the LXX in 250 BC also transliterated that name when they translated the Old Testament into Greek. Their Greek transliteration was Iesous (Quadrant #2). Thus ‘Yhowshuwa’ of the Old Testament was called Iesous in the LXX. Jesus would have been called Yhowshuwa by his contemporaries but when the New Testament writers wrote his name in the Greek New Testament, they used the familiar ‘Iesous’ of the LXX. When the New Testament was rendered from the Greek to English ‘Iesous’ was transliterated (again) to our well-known ‘Jesus’ (bottom half labelled #3). Thus the name ‘Jesus’ = ‘Joshua’. Both Jesus of the New Testament, and Joshua the High Priest of 520BC were called ‘Yhowshuwa’ in their native Hebrew. In Greek, both names were ‘Iesous’. A Greek reader of the Old Testament LXX would recognize the name of Iesous (Jesus) as a familiar name in the Old Testament. We lose that ready connection since the name ‘Jesus’ appears out of the blue as it were.  But the name Jesus does have an Old Testament equivalent – Joshua.

Jesus of Nazareth is the Branch of Isaiah, Jeremiah & Zechariah

But now that we know this context, the prophecy of Zechariah should hit us like a bolt of lightning. Here we see a prediction, made in 520 BC, that the name of the coming Branch will be ‘Jesus’! When I saw this, I just had to sit up and take notice. This was just too ‘coincidental’ for me. Here was (and still is) a prophecy which named the coming Branch, and the name points directly to Jesus of Nazareth.

And this coming Jesus, according to Zechariah, would merge the roles of King and Priest. What was it again that the priests did? On behalf of the people they offered animal sacrifices to God for their forgiveness of sins. Just like Abraham did with his sacrifice on Mount Moriah, and Moses with the Passover lamb sacrifice, the priest covered the sins of the people through animal sacrifice. The coming ‘Jesus’ was going to perform a similar role so that the LORD could ‘remove the sin of this land in a single day’ – the day that this coming Priest Jesus would offer himself as a sacrifice, already pictured in the place of Mount Moriah and the time of year at the Passover. Sometime after fulfilling that role as Priest, this Branch Jesus would take up his throne (as per Psalm 2) and would thus be ‘a Priest on his throne’ – as stated exactly, precisely and verifiably by Zechariah about 500 years before Jesus walked this earth.

This interconnected degree of prophetic foretelling is nothing short of fantastic. Can you think of anyone else in all of history whose life was even as remotely foretold as Jesus of Nazareth’s was by the diverse Old Testament prophets? Zechariah’s naming of the Branch to be Jesus evades all the conspiracy theories of critics like Spong and Ehrman (who argue that the gospel writers made things up to fit the Old Testament) since the name of ‘Jesus’ of Nazareth is recorded outside the gospels. The Jewish Talmud, Josephus and all other writers about Jesus, both friend and foe, have always referred to him as ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’. I think that the only option open to us, if we do not accept this as a bona fida prophetic sign, is to ignore it and hope others do too. I have read plenty of critics like Spong and Ehrman who try to rationalize away the Old Testament prophecies in one way or another. They all just ignore this set of Branch prophecies.

Now I suppose they could rationalize that ‘Jesus’ was a reasonably common Jewish name, there certainly were other Jesus’s in Jewish history, so the name coincidence could possibly be due to chance. But let us think through the career of this Jesus of Nazareth. He certainly, as we saw, claimed to be a king; The King in fact. But everything that he accomplished while on earth was in fact priestly. The job of the priest was to take a lamb on behalf of the worshiping Jewish person, offer it to God, kill it, and the death and blood of that lamb would atone for the sin and guilt of that Jewish person. Even a superficial knowledge of the significance of the death of Jesus was that, it also, was an offering to God, on our behalf. His death atones for the sin and guilt for any willing person. The sins of the land were literally removed ‘in a single day’ – the day Jesus died. In his life he alluded to his coming role as King while fulfilling all the requirements as Priest. He has brought harmony and unity to the two roles. The Branch, the one that David long ago called the ‘Messiah’, is in fact the Priest-King.

So exploring the theme of the Branch through the Old Testament should fill us with wonder. But it does not end there. Another Old Testament writer, sandwiched between Jeremiah and Zechariah in history predicted the time of his coming. We will look at that next time.

The Sign of the Branch (Part 1): The Dead Stump Reborn

One of the claims that Jesus put before the critics that he faced in his day was that:

… These are the very Scriptures that testify about me… (John 5:39)

In other words, Jesus claimed that his life and career was predicted and prophesied by the Old Testament books written by the Hebrew prophets that preceded him by hundreds of years. These prophets had claimed that God inspired their writings. Since no human mind can predict in such detail hundreds of years into the future, this became a line of evidence that Jesus said his contemporaries could use to verify if indeed Jesus came as part of a Divine Plan or if the whole gospel account was the product of some elaborate human scheme. Two thousand years later, the data that Jesus referred to is still available for us to examine and consider for ourselves.

We are now in the season of Lent with Easter fast approaching. The Easter season is certainly an opportune time to consider and assess how and if Jesus fulfills the gospel and if the Old Testament prophets did indeed testify about him. So I plan to take the next few posts to see if and how the Old Testament bears on Jesus and Easter.

First let’s do some review. We had seen that Psalm 2 was where the term ‘Christ’ as a title of a specific person who was to come was first given. Psalm 2 was written ca 1000 BC. We also saw that Daniel predicted a special coming person and these two passages together predict the coming of someone who will be alternatively called: Son of God, Son of Man, Anointed One, Messiah, and Christ. The whole tone and thrust of these scriptures was future-looking. They were anticipating someone. But it did not end there. Much more was written in a prophetic, future-looking direction. Other titles and themes were developed. Isaiah (750 BC) started an intriguing title that later Old Testament books picked up on and developed into a fully-fledged theme – that of the coming Branch.

Isaiah and The Branch

The figure below shows Isaiah in a historical timeline with some other Old Testament writers.

Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings

Isaiah shown in historical timeline. He lived in the period of the rule of the Davidic Kings

You will see from the color coding that Isaiah’s book was written in the period of the

The image Isaiah used of the Dynasty as a tree

The image Isaiah used of the Dynasty as a tree

Davidic Royal dynasty (1000 – 600 BC). [see here for overview of Israelite history].  When it was written (ca 750 BC) the dynasty and kingdom was corrupt. Isaiah was written as a plea to return back to God and the practice and spirit of the Mosaic Law. But Isaiah knew that this repentant return would not happen and thus he also predicted that the country would be destroyed and the royal dynasty would be shattered.

He used a specific metaphor, or image, for the royal dynasty where he pictured it like a great tree. This tree had at its root Jesse, the father of King David. Upon Jesse the Dynasty was started with David, and from his successor, Solomon, the tree continued to grow and develop.

First a Tree … then a Stump … then a Branch

But then Isaiah wrote that this dynastic ‘tree’ would soon be cut down, reducing it to a stump. But along with all this warning came this intriguing prophetic riddle:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him–the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge.” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

The cutting down of this ‘tree’ happened about 150 years after Isaiah, around 600 BC, when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem and dragged its people and king into exile to Babylon (the red period in the timeline above). Jesse was the father of King David, and thus the root of the Davidic Dynasty.Isaiah predicted the dynasty of david as a stump He would be the counterpart to the father of Elendil, the founder of the dynasty of Kings of Gondor in the Lord of the Rings. The ‘stump of Jesse’ was therefore an allusion to the (coming) shattered and broken dynasty of kings from David.

The Branch: A coming ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

But this riddle simultaneously looked further into the future then the cutting down of the tree. Isaiah explicitly predicted that though the ‘stump’ (the line of David from Jesse) would to all appearances look dead, one day in the far future a shoot, known as the Branch, would emerge from that same stump, just like shoots can regenerate from real tree stumps. This Branch isaiah predicted that a one would come from the stump as a branchis referred to as a ‘him’ so Isaiah is talking about a coming man, coming from the line of David after the dynasty was cut down. This man would have such qualities of wisdom, power, and knowledge it would be as if the very Spirit of God would be resting on him.

Jesus … A ‘him’ from David possessing wisdom

We have seen how Jewish scholars, even though hostile witnesses, placed Jesus in the royal line of David, just as the Gospel writers did. Jesus fits the criterion of coming ‘from the stump of Jesse’. The very startling thing about the accounts of Jesus in the gospels is the wisdom and understanding he possessed. His shrewdness, poise and insight in dealing with opponents and followers alike in his day continue to impress both critics and followers ever since. And though he did not rule, his power in the gospels through miracles is undeniable. One may choose not to believe them; but one cannot ignore them. As well as in coming from the line of David, Jesus fits the criterion of possessing exceptional qualities of wisdom and power that Isaiah predicted would one day come from this Branch.

Jeremiah and The Branch

It is like a signpost laid down by Isaiah in history. But it did not end there. His signpost is but the first in a series of signs. Jeremiah, living about 150 years after Isaiah, when the jeremiah in timelineDavidic dynasty was actually being cut down before his very eyes wrote:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD our Righteousness“. (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

Jeremiah explicitly expands on the Branch theme of the Davidic dynasty started by Isaiah much earlier. The Branch will be a King who reigns. But this is exactly what the Psalm 2 and Daniel 7 prophecies said of the coming Son of God/Son of Man/Messiah. Could it be that the Branch and the Son of God are one and the same? Notice who is making the declaration about the Branch – it is the ‘LORD’ making this declaration.

The Branch: The LORD our Righteousness

But what is this Branch to be called? Why also none other than the ‘LORD’ (the same name) who will also be ‘our’ (that is – we humans) Righteousness. As we saw with Abraham, the overwhelming problem for humans is that we are ‘corrupt’, and thus in desperate need of ‘righteousness’. And here, in the describing of the Branch, we see a hint that people in Jeremiah’s future would obtain their needed ‘righteousness’ accredited by none other than LORD – YHWH himself (YHWH is the name for God in the Old Testament). But how would this be done? Zechariah fills in further details for us as he develops further on this theme of the Coming Branch, predicting even the name of Jesus – which we look at in our next post.

Where does the ‘Christ’ in Jesus Christ come from?

I sometimes ask people what they think Jesus’ last name was. Usually they reply along the lines of, “I guess his last name was ‘Christ’ but I am not sure”. Then I ask, “If that was the case then when Jesus was a little boy did Joseph Christ and Mary Christ take little Jesus Christ to the market?” Put that way, they realize that ‘Christ’ is not Jesus’ last name. So, what is ‘Christ’? Where does it come from? What does it mean? Since we are now in the Christmas season, I hope to sharpen your Christmas experience and embark on some 1st century controversies about Jesus – namely, was he ‘the Christ’?

Translation vs. Transliteration

We do need to first understand some very basic principles of translation. Translators try to capture the best meaning. Thus a word-for-word approach is not always used. For example, in my native Swedish if I was to ask about the time I would say “Hur mycket är klockan?” which translated word-for-word is “How much is the clock?” But we do not speak that way in English so translating that phrase by meaning rather than by literal words is preferred.  But translators sometimes choose to translate by similar sound rather than by meaning, especially when it comes to names or titles. This is known as transliteration. For example, our English name Peter is a transliteration from the Greek name Petros, which means ‘rock’ in Greek. The name was rendered to English by similar sound rather than by meaning. However, the same name in French is Pierre, which means ‘rock’ in French. So the name was rendered into French from Greek by translation (similar meaning) rather than by transliteration (similar sound). For the Bible, translators had to decide whether words (especially names and titles) would be better in the receiver language through translation (by meaning) or through transliteration (by sound).

The Septuagint

History of the MSSs that give us modern Bibles inc. LXX and Dead Sea Scrolls

Old Testament manuscript timeline: Septuagint (or LXX) was translated from Hebrew ca 250 BC

Now let’s layer these principles onto the history of Biblical translation. The first translation of the Bible was when the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek about 250BC. This translation is known as the Septuagint (or LXX) and it has exerted an enormous influence. I described the LXX in posts I and II on the Septuagint, and I encourage you to read them because they will help you better follow me from here.

Translation & Transliteration in the Septuagint

The figure below shows how all this impacts modern-day Bibles where translation stages are shown in quadrants.

translation steps in development of bible from Hebrew to Greek to Modern language

This shows the translation flow from original to modern-day Bible

The original Hebrew Old Testament is in quadrant #1 and is accessible today in the Masoretic text and the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Greek New Testament is in quadrant #2. But because the Septuagint was a Hebrew –> Greek translation it is shown as an arrow going from quadrant #1 to #2 so that #2 contains both Old and New Testaments. In the bottom half (#3) is a modern language, like English, that the Bible is translated into. The translators had to decide whether words were better in the receiver language through transliteration or translation as explained above. This is illustrated with the green arrows labeled transliterate and translate on either side of them, showing that the translators could take either approach. Taken together, this figure shows the process of how the Biblical texts have gone from Hebrew and Greek to modern languages of today.

The Origin of ‘Christ’

In the next figure I again follow the process as above, but this time I am specifically focusing on the word ‘Christ’ that appears in our modern-day New Testaments.

where does 'Christ' come from in the old testament of the bible

Where does ‘Christ’ come from in the Bible

We can see that in the original Hebrew Old Testament the term was ‘mashiyach’ which the Hebrew dictionary defines as an ‘anointed or consecrated’ person. Hebrew priests and kings of the Old Testament period were anointed (ceremonially rubbed with oil) before they took up their office, thus they were anointed ones or mashiyach. But certain Old Testament prophetic passages also spoke of a specific mashiyach (with a definite article ’the’) who was prophesied to come. When the Septuagint was developed in 250 BC, the translators chose a word in the Greek with a similar meaning, Christos, which came from chrio, which meant to rub ceremonially with oil. Therefore the word Christos was translated by meaning (and not transliterated by sound) from the original Hebrew ‘mashiyach’ into the Greek Septuagint to refer to this specific person. The New Testament writers understood Jesus to be this very person that was spoken of in the Septuagint so they continued to use the word Christos in their writings to designate Jesus as this mashiyach.

But when we moved to modern-day English, there was no readily recognized word with a similar meaning so Christos was then transliterated from the Greek into English as ‘Christ’. Thus the English ‘Christ’ is a very specific title with Old Testament roots, derived by translation from Hebrew to Greek, and then transliteration from Greek to English. The Hebrew Old Testament is translated directly to English and translators have made different choices in rendering the original Hebrew ‘mashiyach’ into English. Some Translations (like King James Version) transliterated the Hebrew mashiyach to the English word Messiah. Other translations (like New International Version) translated mashiyach by its meaning and so have ‘Anointed One’ in these specific Old Testament passages. Because we do not see the word ‘Christ’ in the English Old Testament this connection to the Old Testament is not readily apparent to us. But from this analysis we know that the Biblical ‘Christ’=’Messiah’=’Anointed One’ and that it was a specific title. The original Greek readers of the New Testament would have directly seen the Christos from the Septuagint and would have seen the direct connection, while we have to dig around somewhat to see it.

The Christ anticipated in 1st Century

Armed with this insight, let’s make some observations from the Gospel accounts. Below is the reaction of King Herod when the Magi from the East came looking for the king of the Jews, a well-known part of the Christmas story. Notice, ‘the’ precedes Christ, even though it is not referring specifically about Jesus.

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. (Matthew 2:3-4)

You can see that the very idea of ‘the Christ’ was already commonly accepted between Herod and his religious advisors – even before Jesus was born – and it is used here without referring specifically to Jesus. This is because ‘Christ’ comes from the Old Testament, and it was commonly read by Jews of the 1st century (like Herod and the chief priests of his day) in the Greek Septuagint. ‘Christ’ was (and still is) a title, not a name. From this we can dismiss right away the ridiculous notions that ‘Christ’ was a Christian invention or an invention by someone like Emperor Constantine of 300 AD popularized by movies like Da Vinci Code. The term was in existence hundreds of years before there were any Christians or before Constantine came to power.

Old Testment prophecies of ‘The Christ’

In fact, the term takes on a definitively prophetic title already in the Psalms, written by David ca 1000 BC – far, far before the birth of Jesus. Let’s look at these first occurrences.

The kings of the earth take their stand … against the LORD and against his Anointed One … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… saying, “I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will proclaim the decree of the LORD : He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. …Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2:2-7)

The Greek Septuagint was far more widely read than the Hebrew in the first century (for both Jews and Gentiles). Psalm 2 in the Septuagint would read in the following way (I am putting it in English with a transliterated Christos so you can ‘see’ the Christ title like a reader of the Septuagint could)

The kings of the earth take their stand … against the LORD and against his Christ … The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them… saying …, (Psalm 2)

You can now ‘see’ Christ in this passage like a reader of the 1st century would have. But the Psalms continue with more references to this coming Christ. I put the standard passage side-by-side with a transliterated one with ‘Christ’ in it so you can see it.

Psalm 132- From Hebrew Psalm 132 – From Septuagint
O Lord, …10 For the sake of David your servant,
do not reject your anointed one.11 The Lord swore an oath to David,
a sure oath that he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
I will place on your throne—
17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David
and set up a lamp for my anointed one.
18 I will clothe his enemies with shame,
but the crown on his head will be resplendent.”
O Lord, …10 For the sake of David your servant,
do not reject your Christ.11 The Lord swore an oath to David,
a sure oath that he will not revoke:
“One of your own descendants
I will place on your throne—
17 “Here I will make a horn grow for David
and set up a lamp for my Christ.
18 I will clothe his enemies with shame,
but the crown on his head will be resplendent.”

You can see that Psalm 132 specifically speaks in the future tense (“…I will make a horn for David…”), like so many passages throughout the Old Testament. This is important to remember when assessing the prophecies. It is not just that the New Testament writers grab some ideas from the Old Testament and ‘make’ them fit. It is as clear as words can be that the Old Testament, without even considering the New Testament, makes future-looking claims and predictions. Herod was aware that the Old Testament prophets made predictions about the coming ‘Christ’ – which was why he was ready for this announcement. He just needed his advisers to fill him in on the specifics of these predictions. The Jews have always been known to be waiting for their Messiah (or Christ). The fact that they are waiting or looking for the coming of their Messiah has nothing to do with Jesus or the New Testament (since they ignore that) but rather has everything to do with the explicitly future-looking predictions and prophecies in the Old Testament.

The Old Testament prophecies: Specified like a lock of a lock-n-key system

The fact that the Old Testament writings are explicitly predictive of the future makes them stand in very small company across the vast sea of literature that has been produced through human history. It is like the lock of a door. A lock is designed in a certain shape specification so that only a specific ‘key’ that matches the specification can unlock it. In the same way the Old Testament is like a lock. We saw that the specifications are not just in these two Psalms I looked at here but already we have seen others in the posts on Abraham’s sacrifice, Adam’s beginning, Moses’ Passover, and Daniel’s coming Son of Man (please review if they are not familiar).  Psalm 132 adds the specification that ‘the Christ’ would be from the line of David.  So the ‘lock’ has specifications that can be seen to become more and more precise as we survey the prophetic passages across the Old Testament. Given that, here is a question worth asking:  Why is ‘Christ’ so anticipated and so central in both the Old and New Testaments?  In finding the answer you will also see why ‘Christ’ is relevant to you and me today.


What was the Passover Sign of Moses?

In the previous post I looked at how the trial of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac alluded to the sacrifice of Jesus. About 500 years have now passed since Abraham and it is about 1500 BC. After Abraham died, his descendants through Isaac, now called Israelites, are a vast number of people but also have become slaves in Egypt. This happened because Joseph, great-grandson of Abraham, was sold as a slave to Egypt and then his family followed as explained in Genesis 45-46 of the Bible.

The Exodus Passover Story

So we now come to a very curious drama centered around Moses and which is told in the book Exodus (so named because it is the account of Moses leading the Jewish Israelites out of Egypt). Moses had been commanded by God to confront the Pharaoh of Egypt and it results in a contest of wills between the two, producing nine plagues or disasters against Pharaoh thus far. But Pharaoh has not agreed to let the Israelites go so God is going to bring about a 10th and most fearsome plague. The full story of the 10th Plague in Exodus of the Bible is linked here and I urge you to read it because it will help you in better following the explanation below.

This 10th plague decreed by God was that every firstborn offspring would die that night except those who remained in houses where a lamb had been sacrificed and its blood painted on the doorposts of that house. Pharaoh’s loss, if he did not obey, would be that his son and heir to the throne would die. And every house in Egypt would lose the firstborn son – if they did not sacrifice a lamb and paint its blood on the doorposts. So Egypt faced a national disaster.

But in houses where a lamb had been sacrificed and its blood painted on the doorposts the promise was that everyone would be safe. Death would pass over that house. So this day was called Passover.

The Passover Sign – for who?

Many who are familiar with this account assume that the blood on the doors was a sign for the Angel of Death. But notice the curious detail in the account.

The LORD said to Moses … ” … I am the LORD. The blood [of the Passover lamb] will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. (Exodus 12:13)

So, though the LORD was looking for the blood on the door, and when He saw it He would pass over, the blood was not a sign for Him. It says quite clearly, that the blood was a ‘sign for you’ – i.e. the people. And by extension it is a Sign for all of us who read this account. But how is it a sign? After this event happened the LORD commanded them to:

Celebrate this day as a lasting ordinance for generations to come. When you enter the land … observe this ceremony… It is the Passover sacrifice to the LORD’ (Exodus 12:27)

The Remarkable Passover Calendar

In fact we see at the beginning of this passage that this event inaugurates and launches the ancient Jewish calendar.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt,  “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year… (Exodus 12:1-2)

So the Israelites were commanded to establish a calendar that celebrated this Passover on the same day every year. The Jewish calendar is a little different from the Western calendar, so the day in the year moves each year if you track it by the Western calendar.

Passover celebrated today as a result of Moses commands

This is a modern-day scene of Jewish people preparing to celebrate Passover in memory of that first Passover 3500 years ago.

But to this day, 3500 years later, they continue to celebrate the Jewish Passover Festival every year on the same day in their calendar and eat the seder meal in memory of this event in obedience to the command given then.

And in tracking this celebration through history we can note something quite extraordinary. You can notice this in the Gospel where it records the details of the arrest and trial of Jesus:

“Then the Jews led Jesus … to the palace of the Roman governor [Pilate]… to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover” … [Pilate] said [to Jewish leaders] “…But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No not him…” (John 18:28, 39-40)

In other words, Jesus was arrested and executed right on the Passover day in the Jewish calendar. Now if you remember from Sign of Abraham’s Sacrifice, one of the titles of Jesus was:

The next day John (i.e. John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world… ’”. (John 1:29)

And here we see the drama in this Sign. Jesus, the ‘Lamb of God’, was crucified (i.e. sacrificed) on the very same day that all the Jews alive then were sacrificing a lamb in memory of the first Passover that launched their calendar. This explains the annual timing of two holidays that occurs every year – a parallel that so few of us notice and even fewer ask ‘Why?’. The Jewish Passover Festival occurs most years in the same week that Easter does – check your calendar. (In some years, because of the Jewish leap month cycle they can be a month apart).

Signs, Signs, Everywhere are Signs

Back to that first Passover in Moses’ day where the blood was a ‘sign’, not for God, but for the people.  Now think for a minute about what signs do by considering these below.

What are the function of 'signs'

Signs are pointer in our minds to get us to think about the thing the sign points to

When we see the sign of the ‘skull and crossbones’ it is to make us think of death and danger. The sign of the ‘Golden Arches’ makes us think about McDonalds. The sign of the ‘√’ on tennis player Nadal’s bandana is the sign for Nike. Nike wants us to think of them when we see this sign on Nadal. In other words, Signs are pointers in our minds to direct our thinking not to the sign itself but to something else.

Now the Passover account explicitly said that the Sign was for the people, not for God, but it was established by Him – He was the author of it.  So like with any sign, what did He want our minds to think of?  With the remarkable timing of lambs being sacrificed on the same day as Jesus, and given his title ‘Lamb of God’, it must be a pointer to the sacrifice of Jesus.

It works in our minds like I have shown in the diagram here about me.

Passover is a sign to Jesus in that his death was on the day of that sacrifice

The Passover is a Sign in that it points to Jesus through the remarkable timing of Passover with Jesus’ crucifixion

The sign was there to point me to the death of Jesus. In that first Passover the lambs were sacrificed and the blood spread so the people could live. And thus, this Sign pointing to Jesus is to tell me that he, ‘The Lamb of God’, was also given to death and his blood spilt so I could find life.  The meaning of Passover is Jesus’ sacrifice that gives us life.

With Abraham’s sign the place where the ram died so Isaac could live was Mount Moriah – the very same place where Jesus was later sacrificed. That enables us to ‘see’ the meaning of his death by pointing to the place. Here in the Passover we find another pointer to the same event – by pointing to the same day in the calendar – the calendar initiated by this very event.  And a lamb sacrifice is once again used – showing that it is not just a coincidence of any event – to signify the death of Jesus.  In two different ways (through location and through timing) two of the most symbolic and important events in the Old Testament directly point to the death of Jesus. I cannot think of any other person in history whose death (or any important milestone) is so foreshadowed by two similar parallels in such dramatic fashion. Can you?  I do cover some objections in my article here.

We saw in the trial of Jesus that still another title (‘The Son of Man’) from another Old Testament book (Daniel) from another era (Daniel was ca 500 BC – a thousand years after Moses) is literally becoming fulfilled in still another age (the last 300 years or so) through a growing world-wide voluntary worship of him – in large part because of this same death.  We also saw in the background to Pentecost that the Old Testament Feast of Weeks – from that same calendar inaugurated by Moses with Passover falls on, while also pointing to, the day of Pentecost.

Taken together, these foresights should signal to us that there are reasonable grounds to consider that Jesus is the cornerstone of a Divine Plan signaled long ago when mere slaves in Egypt auspiciously inaugurated their new calendar by Signing lamb’s blood onto their doors.

[Click here for this Sign explained to those with an Islamic perspective and an interest in the Prophet Musa’s (PBUH) message.]

What was the Sign of Abraham’s Sacrifice?

Abraham is one of the most foundational characters of the Old Testament in helping us to understand the Gospel. He lived 4000 years ago traveling from what is modern-day Iraq to live as a wanderer in what is modern-day Israel. We saw in the Session on External Evidence that cities and names from his era are referenced in ancient tablets preserved for us today. So the setting of his account is entirely historical. There is no evidence from archaeology to dismiss his account and there is rather good reason to take this account seriously.

So I would like to look at a well-known part of the account of Abraham, the part where God asked him to sacrifice his one and only son, Isaac, for whom Abraham had waited many years, and on whom all his hopes for his future progeny rested.  This story is also known as the binding of Isaac.

So Abraham encounters his greatest test and it gives us a ‘peek’ into the Gospel.  I encourage you to read the full account in Genesis concerning the test of the sacrifice of his son here.

The sacrifice looking to the future

We can see from the account that this was a test for Abraham, yet it is also for us.  But to ‘see’ this we need to note a few observations from the account.  Here is the pertinent portion of the account:

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place ‘The LORD Will Provide’. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.” (Genesis 22:13-14)

Notice the name that Abraham gave to that place where the test occurred. He named it ‘The LORD will provide’. The question we need to ask is: ‘Is that name in the past tense, present tense or future tense?’ It is clearly in the future tense. And to be even more clear the comment which follows (which Moses inserted when he compiled this account into the Jewish Torah about 500 years later) repeats “…it will be provided”. Again this is in the future tense and thus looking to the future.  But this naming occurs after the sacrifice of the ram (a male sheep) in place of Isaac. Many who read the account think that Abraham, when naming that place, is referring to the ram caught in the thicket and sacrificed in place of his son. But when Abraham names the place the ram is already dead, sacrificed and burnt. If Abraham is thinking of the ram – already dead, sacrificed and burnt – he would have named it ‘The LORD has provided’, i.e. in the past tense. And Moses, if he was thinking of the ram that took the place of Abraham’s son would have commented ‘And to this day it is said “On the mountain of the LORD it was provided”’. But both Abraham and Moses clearly give it a name in future tense and therefore are not thinking of that already dead and sacrificed ram.

Where the sacrifice happened

So what are they thinking about then? If we look for a clue we see that the place where God told Abraham to go at the beginning of this Sign was:

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (v.2)

This happened in ‘Moriah’. But where is that? Though it was a wilderness area in Abraham’s day (2000 BC), a thousand years later (1000 BC) King David established the city of Jerusalem there, and his son Solomon built the First Jewish Temple there. We read later in the Old Testament historical books that:

Then Solomon began to build the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David (2 Chronicles 3:1)

In other words, ‘Mount Moriah’ in the time of Abraham was an isolated mountain top in the wilderness but 1000 years later through David and Solomon it became the central and capital city of the Israelites where they built the Jewish Temple. And to this very day it is a holy place for the Jewish people.

Jesus and the Sacrifice of Abraham

And here we find a direct connection to Jesus and the Gospel. We see this connection when we consider one of the titles attributed to Jesus.  Now Jesus had many titles associated with him.  In the previous post I looked at the interplay of titles ‘Son of Man’ and ‘Son of God’ used at his trial.  And perhaps the most well-known title of his is ‘Christ’. But there is another title given to him that is not as well known, but hugely important. We see this in the Gospel of John when John the Baptist says:

The next day John (i.e. John the Baptist) saw Jesus (i.e. Jesus) coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I meant when I said ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me’”. (John 1:29-30)

In other words, Jesus was also known as ‘The Lamb of God”. Now consider the end of Jesus’ life. Where was he arrested and crucified? It was in Jerusalem (which as we saw is the same as ‘Mount Moriah’). It is very clearly stated during his arrest that:

When he [Pilate] learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at the time.’ (Luke 23:7)

In other words, the arrest, trial and sentencing of Jesus happened in Jerusalem (= Mount Moriah).

Back to Abraham. Why did he name that place in the future tense ‘The LORD will provide’? How could he know that something would be ‘provided’ there in his future that would so precisely mirror the drama of the scene he enacted on Mount Moriah? Think about it – in that drama Isaac is saved from death at the last moment because a lamb dies in his place. Two thousand years later, Jesus is called ‘Lamb of God’ and is arrested and dies on the same spot!  Both Abraham and Moses claimed that it was revealed to them by God.

A Divine Mind Reveals Himself

And indeed it is as though there is a Mind that is connecting these two events separated by 2000 years of history.

The prophecy in the sacrifice of Abraham on mount moriah is a pointer to jesus

The sacrifice of Abraham was a Sign – pointing forward 2000 years – to make us think about the death of Jesus.

But what makes this unique is that the earlier event is pointing to the second event two thousand years later.  We know the earlier was configured to point to the later because the name given by Abraham and Moses was ‘The LORD will provide’ i.e. it looks to the future.  The figure illustrates how the earlier event alludes to the later one and was configured to remind us of the later event.  This is evidence that this Mind is revealing Himself to us by coordinating events though separated by thousands of years.  This is evidence that God has spoken.  Take a look here for a discussion on other possible explanations.

Good News for you and me

But this account is also pertinent to us for more personal reasons. At the end of the exchange God declares to Abraham that

“…and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:18)

If you belong to one of the ‘nations on earth’ (and you do!) this has to concern you because the promise is that you then can get a ‘blessing’ from God himself!  Even only a possibility of a blessing from God should move us to investigate further.

But how is this ‘blessing’ given?  For starters, the word ‘offspring’ here is in the singular. It is not ‘offsprings’ as in many descendants or peoples, but in the singular as in a ‘he’, not through many people or a group of people as in ‘they’.   Again, this points to Jesus, the offspring of Abraham.  Just like the ram saved Isaac from death by dieing in his place, so the Lamb of God, by his death, saves us from the power of death.  The Good News of the gospel is foreshadowed beyond that of chance coincidences in the remarkable account of the sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah, the same spot where 2000 years later it ‘was provided’

[Click here for this Sign explained to those with an Islamic perspective and an interest in Eid al-Adha and Ibrahim (PBUH).]