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).]

 

 

The Bible: Inspired by God or thought up by men?

The Bible’s argument for God’s Existence

The Bible is the perennial best-seller of all time. It has been translated into more languages than any other book. However, the Bible is also controversial. For one thing it claims that God inspired its writing. An example of such a claim is:

“All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”(2 Timothy 3:16).

The question I had when faced with such a claim was, how could I know whether it was true or not? For one thing, how can I know that God exists?  Does one have to believe in the existence of God before one looks at the Bible?  After all, lots of holy books and even religious leaders make similar claims.  The well-known atheist Bertrand Russell surveyed the plethora of religions, most making claims and statements contradicting each other, yet all claiming some Divine origin and concluded that all religions were false. Was Russell right? Or is there some evidence that the Bible has to validate its claim? Or does one choose whether to believe a scripture or not solely based on culture and upbringing, or on some whim and fancy?

The Bible`s Test for God & Proof of Inspiration

As I struggled with these questions, I came across a test that the Bible itself laid down to prove its inspiration and to prove God’s existence. It is the Bible’s argument and proof for the existence of God and is spelled out in the following Biblical passages.

“You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD’? If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message that the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)

“Present your case,” says the LORD … “you idols tell us what is going to happen … declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know you are gods.” (Isaiah 41:21-23)

The test that the Bible lays out is quite simple, yet clear-cut. To know if a message came from God the statements say that it should be supported by predictions of the future. The reasoning is that if God exists, He knows the future, whereas though people can make some educated guesses we can’t predict the future with consistent accuracy, and false gods know nothing about the future. Thus a message from God can be differentiated from those of people or false gods on the basis of its predictive abilities.  If the messages do predict the future then they must come from God then He must exist.  This is evidence that God is there and talking to us.  The Bible’s argument for God’s existence is pretty straightforward.

But can we apply this proof for God’s existence?  I was acutely aware that predictive prophecy was subject to interpretation, especially if the predictive statements were vague. After all, New Years’ tabloids usually have headlines from some ‘psychic’ who predicts that there will be a disaster or turmoil in the course of the coming year. Such general predictions are bound to happen statistically. Were there prophecies in the Bible that were really substantive and precise? That gave a real sign of Divine inspiration? Let me share with you what I have learned on this topic.

Basic Facts of the Bible

In order to assess this evidence one needs to know some basic facts about the Bible. The Bible has two main sections, the Old Testament, comprised of 39 books written in the period 1500 BC to 400 BC, by a wide variety of authors.  The following short video of a public presentation I did at a university will give you a quick but adequate background on the authorship of the Old Testament.

The New Testament comprised of 27 books written between 50 AD and 90 AD.  To get basic background information on the textual reliability of the New Testament, see the following 17 minute video from another presentation at another university and/or browse this article here.

The New Testament centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. What is fascinating is that he claimed that the Old Testament also anticipated his person and work. For example, on one occasion Luke tells us of Jesus that

“beginning with Moses and all the Prophets [i.e. the Old Testament] he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

This, if true, should include these predictive prophecies since Moses (ca 1500 BC) and the Prophets (ca 1000 – 500 BC) were written hundreds of years before Jesus walked the earth. What kind of predictions did they make? Were they vague and subjective? Or definitive? Let’s take a look at the evidence.

Isaiah Prophecies of the Servant

See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him – his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness – so he will sprinkle [i.e. help or heal] many nations.  Isaiah 52:13-15 (written 750 BC)

This passage is explicitly forward-looking (with the ‘will’ as in future tense) and thus predicts a coming ‘servant’ who will be known for being wise. The passage seems to contradict itself, however, since it says he will be highly exalted and lifted up – then it talks about him becoming disfigured and marred beyond recognition – so that all ‘nations’ will be affected. The controversy of the violence and blood in Mel Gibson’s The Passion movie shows us visually how this prophecy was fulfilled. Jesus was known as a wise teacher, and he is exalted by many. Yet the beatings and punishment he received at his death was so appalling and disfiguring that his form was literally marred beyond human likeness. People in all nations have recognized him. That prophecy was literally fulfilled by Jesus in all its facets.  See this article here for a more detailed breakdown of this prediction.

Isaiah prophecy of Jesus crucifixion and resurrection

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed .. the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and afflicted .. he was led like a lamb to the slaughter .. by oppression and judgment he was taken away.  And who can speak of his descendants?  For he was cut off from the land of the living.  For the transgression of my people he was stricken .. After the suffering of his soul he will see the light of life and be satisfied.  By his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many. (Isaiah 53: 5-11)

This continues on from the previous passage to describe the servant as being pierced for our transgressions.  What an apt description of a person who is being nailed to a cross – he is being pierced.  But this was written before crucifixion was even invented!  The rest of the passage goes on to state that he was bearing our iniquities (sins) so that we can experience peace and healing in our relationship with God; that he would afterwards see the light of life and justify many.  The Good News of the early Gospel followers was exactly that: God is extending us his forgiveness since Jesus bore the penalty of our sins (through his death) and since he was resurrected we now have the hope of eternal life.  Isaiah is anticipating not only the historical events around Jesus (his suffering, crucifixion & resurrection) but the implications of these events in our relationship with God.

The Prophecy of the Crucifixion in the Psalms

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?… I am … scorned by men and despised by the people.  All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. … I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me… a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet…I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me .. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.  .. All the ends of the earth will remember… Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.  They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn. (Psalm 22, ca 1000 BC)

Jesus, while on the cross did call out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”(5).  In doing so Jesus was pointing to Psalm 22 which opens with the same words.  As one reads that Psalm, the highlights of which I have produced, one gets a description of the crucifixion of Jesus, in first person, including the mocking and insults he received, the dislocating of the joints, the piercing of hands and feet, the dividing of garments.  How was David, the author of Psalm 22, able to get such an accurate visualization of the crucifixion 1000 years before it occurred?  And notice how the Psalm ends.  It describes the legacy or effect of this person.  It says that generations following the crucifixion will be told about it.  And here we are about 2000 years after the crucifixion studying aspects of it – just as David predicted.  For a further breakdown of Psalm 22 see this article here.

The Prophecy of lineage

“’The days are coming’, declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land.   Jeremiah 33:14-15 ca. 600 BC

Note that this prophecy predicts that someone will come from David’s line (David was the famous Jewish King who defeated Goliath and founded the city of Jerusalem ca 1000 BC – see historical overview here), and this person would be just and right. This prediction was fulfilled by Jesus Christ who was a descendant of David as well as a person who is famous for being ‘just and right’. The lineages were meticulously preserved in that ancient Middle Eastern culture, and both Matthew (ch 1) and Luke (ch 3) trace Jesus’ lineage to his ancestor King David.  For Jewish verification of Jesus’ lineage outside of the Bible see my article here.

The name of Jesus Prophesied!

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! … and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.  Zechariah 3:8-9 written 500 BC

Zechariah picks up from Jeremiah and predicts more about the coming Branch of David. It is interesting that Joshua (who was the person in 500 BC to whom Zechariah was directly speaking) is a variant of the name Yeshua, which was Jesus name in Aramaic. In other words Jesus and Joshua are variants of the same name (like John and Jonathan are variants of each other – see here for further explanation). And Zechariah says that the Joshua of his day was symbolic of the Branch, and this Branch would remove the sin of the land in one single day. The day Jesus (Yeshua) died he did so for the sins of all people. So literally, in a single day the sins of the land were removed. In a sense, Jesus’ name and victory over sin were predicted 500 years before he lived.  This article here explores this prophecy in further detail.

Birthplace of Jesus prophesied

“But you, Bethlehem, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2 written 700 BC

This prediction has of today been partially fulfilled. Jesus was born in Bethlehem (as the Christmas accounts tell us), but he has never yet ruled over Israel. It is interesting though that he claimed to be a King (‘Christ’ is a title signifying kingship). For example, he declared, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory”(Matthew 25:31). This indicates that he taught that he would return again to earth – this time to rule, which would thus fulfill both parts of Micah’s prophecy. At this point at least we have the fulfillment of his birth place.

Explanations for the prophecies

In this short study we’ve had time to look at just a few predictions in the Old Testament that seem to be fulfilled in the person and life of Jesus Christ. What are some possible explanations? It could just be coincidence. If it were just these few prophecies we looked at then that could perhaps be contemplated. Sometimes bizarre and unusual coincidences just happen. But when we consider that there are several hundred direct and indirect prophecies and allusions in the Old Testament that are completed in Jesus, of which we have looked at just a few, it would seem that coincidence is a poor explanation for such a large and converging set of predictions. And people who did not know each other, living hundreds of years apart wrote these prophecies. In our little sample we looked at Psalm 22 written by David ca 1000 BC down to Zechariah who lived about 500 BC. Yet their writings independently converge on Jesus.

The most likely explanation that I considered was that the Old Testament writings were changed after the life of Jesus to make them ‘fit’. However, the Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls ruled that explanation out. The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1948, contain almost the entire Old Testament, they are dated at 200 B.C, and they are exactly the same as traditional Old Testament texts. Thus we have manuscripts in hand today that pre-date Jesus by about 200 years, containing the same predictions, so they could not have been altered after his life to make the predictions fit his life.  For further information on the Dead Sea Scrolls and how they relate to this question see my short video on this topic:

Or perhaps the life of Jesus was written in the Gospels of the New Testament to make it ‘fit’ the Old Testament prophecies. The problem with that explanation is that so many of the predictions and fulfillments revolve around public aspects of Jesus life. Take the first prophecies we looked at, for example, which foretell his passion and crucifixion. The Gospel writers could not just ‘make up’ a highly public event. In fact secular writers of that time refer of Jesus being crucified under Pontius Pilate (ex. Tacitus. 112 AD. Annals XV 44  & Josephus. 67AD. Antiquities xviii. 33 ).  You can check here the Session or the article here that explores these secular writers that refer to events of Jesus’ life in their historical writings.  Early Christian writers refer to Pilate’s records of the crucifixion kept in Caesar’s official archives (Justin Martyr 150 AD First Apology ch xxxv). It was as if it was common knowledge of that day.

Or perhaps the New testament was gradually modified over time to make it better ‘fit’ the predictions of the Old Testament as scribes started to understand more what was supposed to happen with Jesus’ life.  But again, the remarkable stability of the New Testament text precludes this explanation.

So who was behind the writings of the Bible? Was it only men, or was it that, as the Bible itself says, “… [it] never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The fulfilled prophecies should give us pause because no other set of writings, holy or otherwise, has this same kind of signature on it.  At the very least, this short study should encourage us to study this question more thoroughly so that we can be informed of the case for Biblical Inspiration and the existence of God.  If you go to the Allusions Session and the Prequeled Sequel nature of the Gospel, you will have access to some videos and blog posts that explore this vital question more in depth.  I hope you take the time to find out, because the question is an important one.

Pentecost – Why did it occur when it did?

Today (May 27) is Pentecost Sunday. Unlike Christmas and Easter this day passes with such little fanfare that there is a good chance you will not think about it or be reminded of it. But it is another sign, a remarkable allusion in the unfolding of the Gospel that it does deserve our full attention. However, to see the significance we need to understand its place in the Biblical story.

Pentecost in Acts 2 of New Testament

If you are aware of Pentecost, you will probably know of it as the day when the Holy Spirit of God came down to indwell the followers of Jesus. This is the day that the church, the “called-out ones” of God, was born. This event is recorded in Acts chapter 2. On that day, the Spirit of God descended on the 120 followers of Jesus and they started speaking out loud in languages from around the world. This created such a commotion that thousands who were in Jerusalem at the time came out to see what was happening and in front of the gathering crowd, Peter spoke the first gospel message and ‘three thousand were added to their number that day’ (Acts 2:41). And the number of gospel followers has been growing continually ever since that Pentecost Sunday.

That event happened 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. It was during this ‘quiet’ interval of 50 days that the convictions of Jesus’ disciples regarding his resurrection were formed and hardened. On Pentecost Sunday it all went public and history has been changed because of it. Whether you believe in the resurrection or not, your life has been affected by the events of that Pentecost Sunday.

But this understanding of Pentecost, though correct, is incomplete. And it will keep you from seeing the allusion, the Sign. Many people yearn for a return to that Pentecost Sunday to have a similar experience of speaking in languages and dramatic signs of the Holy Spirit. And since the first disciples of Jesus had this Pentecostal experience by ‘waiting for the gift of the Spirit’, today people figure that similarly if we ‘wait’ He will come again in a similar way. And so many people wait and implore God for a similar experience. To think this way is to assume that it was the waiting and yearning that moved the Spirit of God back then. To think this way is to miss the point and overlook the allusion – because the Pentecost recorded in Acts Chapter 2 was not the first Pentecost.

Pentecost from the Law of Moses

No, in fact Pentecost was a regular Old Testament festival. In the time of Moses, several annual festivals were prescribed and celebrated throughout the year. The festival of Passover was the first to be celebrated in the Jewish year. In Session Five I showed how Jesus was crucified on that very Jewish festival. And so Jesus, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed on the same day that all Jewish people were sacrificing their lambs in memory of their first Passover. Given that there are 365 days in a year it is striking that Jesus dies on that very day. It is like Moses, 1500 years before the event, establishes the festival of Passover as an allusion to the eventual crucifixion of Jesus.

But it does not end there. Exactly 50 days after Passover the Jews celebrated the Feast of Pentecost. And they had been doing so yearly for 1500 years by the time the events of Acts 2 happened. In fact, the reason that there were people from all languages who were in Jerusalem that day to hear Peter’s message was precisely because they were there to celebrate the Old Testament Pentecost.

We read in the Law how Pentecost was to be celebrated

Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath [i.e. of Passover], and then present an offering of new grain to the LORD. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of firstfruits to the LORD. (Leviticus 23:16-17)

On the day of firstfruits, when you present to the LORD an offering of new grain during the Festival of Weeks (i.e. Pentecost), hold a sacred assembly and do no regular work. (Numbers 28:26)

In the Jewish feast of Pentecost the Jews were to offer up a grain offering along with the regular burnt offerings. The grain was to be ‘firstfruits’ of new grain harvested from the land. This was an allusion – the depth of which was unseen by the first Jews from the time of Moses – of the coming of the Holy Spirit on that more famous Pentecost Sunday in Acts 2.

Pentecost: A Sign of Firstfruits

This is significant on several counts. First of all, one of the reasons that the Gospel is ‘good news’ is that not only is it about a conquering of death, but it is also about living life differently. Life is now a union between God and people. And this union takes place through the indwelling of the Spirit of God – which began on the Pentecost Sunday of Acts 2. The Good News is that life can now be lived on a different level, in a relationship with God through His Spirit. Paul puts it like this:

Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)

The indwelling Spirit of God is a ‘firstfruits’ of the gospel, intimately tied in with the resurrection because the Spirit is a firstfruits – a deposit so to speak – of our coming personal resurrection.

Pentecost Timing: Evidence of a Mind

And it is this remarkable coinciding of the timing of the events of Acts 2 and the Feat of Pentecost with the themes of firstfruits and abundant living that point, once again, to a Mind planning this through history. Given that there are 365 days in a year why should the events of Acts 2 happen exactly on the Feast of Pentecost, the day when the Jews celebrated ‘firstfruits’ of the grain and oil of the land – the things that give not just life, but an abundant life?  The timing is remarkable. Timing like this happens only by intent, and intent shows a mind behind it.

Did Luke ‘make up’ Pentecost?

One could argue that Luke (author of Acts) made up the events of Acts 2 to ‘fall’ on Feast of Pentecost. Then he would be the ‘mind’ behind the timing. But when you read Acts he makes no reference back to the Law to tell the reader that this is ‘fulfilling’ the Feast of Pentecost. Instead he points the reader to (another) fulfillment of a prophecy from the book of Joel. Why would he go through the trouble of inventing something ‘big’ on that day and then not help the reader see how it fulfills the Feast of Pentecost. In fact, Luke does such a steady of job of reporting events rather than interpreting their significance that most people today do not know that the events of Acts 2 fall on the same day as the Old Testament Feast of Pentecost.  Most people think that Pentecost has its start in Acts 2. If Luke made it up to ‘fit’ the Old Testament he was a genius in dreaming up the connection but a failure in ‘selling’ it since most people today are not aware of it.

Hence this post. Now that you are aware of it you can consider the good news of the offer and reality of a life made abundant not by possessions, pleasure, status, wealth and all the other passing trifles pursued by this world, which Solomon had found to be such an empty bubble, but by the indwelling of the Spirit of God. Think about it!  If this is true – that God offers to indwell and empower us – that would have to be good news. And the fact that the timing of the Old and New Pentecosts are perfect is evidence that indeed it is this very God that is the mind behind these events and this offer of an abundant life.

The Septuagint Part 2

In my previous post I introduced the Septuagint as a book that has changed history.  As I noted, the Septuagint is an important textual stream for the Old Testament and is used as such. But probably the biggest significance of the Septuagint on us today and one reason I say that it has changed history is its influence on the New Testament.  The Old Testament is quoted throughout the entire New Testament.  And all the New Testament books were written in Greek (due to the Hellenization of that world as explained in my previous post).  Therefore, when these New Testament writers quote the Old Testament they quote from the Septuagint rather than from the Hebrew Old Testament.  It would have been counterproductive to have a book written in Greek with Hebrew quotes in it since very few readers would have been able to understand the quotes.  The primary significance for us today then of the Septuagint is how it is used and carried into the New Testament.

The Septuagint use by early Apologists

But this leads us directly to another reason that the Septuagint has changed human history.  Its use did not end at the close of the New Testament period.  The people who followed in the wake of the apostles also quoted from the Septuagint.  These early apologists, as they were called, wrote to both Jewish and pagans alike in the Greco-Roman world.  Their writings are extensive.  In fact a compilation of the writings from 95 AD – 315 AD (i.e. the end of the apostolic era to Constantine’s edict finally making Christianity legal in the Roman Empire) that are extant, or survived to this day, make a 14 volume encyclopedia set!  These writers quoted extensively from both the Septuagint and the New Testament documents.  And because the language used was Greek throughout, their readers were brought to clearly see Jesus in the Septuagint Old Testament.  In fact these apologists for the gospel did such a good job using the Septuagint to persuade Jewish people to the gospel that the Jews quietly stopped using the Septuagint in the 2nd century – even though it always had been a Jewish work.  As an introductory article to a modern Septuagint translation (the EOB) states

“As Christianity began to spread, the Septuagint was used with persuasive effect by Christian apologists – so well, in fact, that in time the Jews of the dispersion replaced it with newer works.” EOB  Rick Grant Jones (p64)

These apologists also used the Septuagint to write to their pagan contemporaries.  In fact some of their writings were directed straight to the Roman Emperors of their day so confident were they of the reasonableness of the gospel.

And their writings had an effect.  Gradually their main contentions started to circulate and gain a hearing.  Over a few generations educated thinkers were persuaded so that in time the course of the Greco-Roman world changed – and human history changed.  The Septuagint was foundational to this change.

Session Six – Following the lead of these apologists

My hope in Session Six is to capture some of what these people saw and to follow some of their arguments. Session Six is now completed and all content is uploaded.  I invite you to follow some of the greater deliberations that were discussed and argued in the decades following the New Testament apostolic period. And like their readers you can consider for yourself whether you agree or come to other conclusions.  That is part of the richness in considering the gospel.  This introductory article is a good place to start.