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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, December 16 2021

The real star wars

Many of the underlying themes in the Star Wars' movie series deal with the struggle to control the universe, with a powerful force helping humans resist and overcome the menacing influence of the dark side. The Bible also tells a similar story.

by Scott Ashley

Why, in spite of thousand years of struggle, has humanity not been able to forge a lasting peace with their fellowman? Worldwide efforts such as the League of Nations (created from the rubble of World War I) and the United Nations (formed from the devastation of World War II) have failed to bring peace and security. History is a chronicle of despots and oppressors whose vain ambitions have brought unspeakable suffering.

But where did such evil begin and how did it originate?

The book of Genesis documents the origins of the heavens and the earth and the creation of every plant and living creature, including the first man and woman. It also describes the peaceful paradise Adam and Eve shared with their Creator. But something went wrong when another being entered the picture, and the course of history was forever changed.

Influenced by Satan, Adam and Eve rejected God's revelation, and chose to follow what they perceived to be a better way. The fruits of their fateful choice became evident, when they were expelled from the paradise God had provided for them, and tragedy engulfed their own children. Cain murdered Abel (Genesis 4:8) and man’s pattern of settling his differences with violence was established.

By Noah's time humanity had grown so degenerate and barbaric (Genesis 6:5) God determined to start the human race all over again through Noah and his immediate family. But the world has once again chosen to follow the way of sin and depravity and is now far removed from the paradise Adam and Eve enjoyed before Satan and sin entered the picture.

For much of mankind it is a frightening, deadly place, filled with brutality, bloodshed and suffering, as well as the threat of annihilation from nuclear and biological weapons, natural disasters and terrifying diseases. The apostle John understood humanity was dominated by an evil empire and told us "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19).

Some wonder how a loving and merciful God can allow such suffering to exist, but this is not God's world. God hasn't cut Himself off from mankind, mankind has cut itself off from God. God has always wanted a loving relationship with humanity, and has offered us a way of life that would bring peace and prosperity, and eliminate sorrow and suffering.

When God revealed this way of life to the ancient Israelites, He pleaded with them to make the right choice: "... I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19)

The Bible chillingly warns us that Satan is the true "god of this age" (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Appearing in the form of a serpent, Satan lied to Adam and Eve and convinced them God was actually the liar, who was withholding something good from them (Genesis 3:1-5).

Jesus Christ identified Satan as the originator of lying and "a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). Satan’s lies to Adam and Eve cost them their lives, and his lies have been responsible for the loss of billions of lives since then. His deception is so widespread and so prevalent that earth's inhabitants have no idea they are deceived.

Eventually the empire of the god of this age will fall, just like every other empire, kingdom and government since the dawn of time. The fall of this empire, however, will be different. Armies, weapons and tactics won’t be able to dislodge it. It is much too powerful to be conquered by human effort. This great evil force can only be overthrown by an even greater force: the returning Jesus Christ. (Revelation 19:11-16).

At His return, Jesus will establish the eternal Kingdom of God on earth: "...There were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!'" (Revelation 11:15).

Satan the devil will see his empire shattered, and he will be bound "so that he should deceive the nations no more" (Revelation 20:1-3).

Then those who over the centuries have valiantly struggled against the forces of darkness will receive their promised reward which is greater than anything portrayed in any movie. The Apostle Paul describes their resurrection to eternal life: "...we shall not all die, but we shall all be changed... in the twinkling of an eye.... For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will rise imperishable, and we shall be changed ... [When] our mortality has been clothed with immortality, then the saying of scripture will come true: 'Death is swallowed up; victory is won!'" (1 Corinthians 15:41-44, 51-54).

An incomprehensible future awaits the victors in the real star wars.

Herod had ruled the province of Judea, which encompassed most of the geographical areas of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, for almost 40 years at the time Jesus Christ was born, with secular history and archaeology confirming his reign (Matthew 2:1-3, 7-8).

He was a great builder, initiating construction projects in at least 20 cities or towns in Israel and more than 10 in foreign cities: "Archaeological excavations have uncovered a surprisingly large amount of evidence pertaining to Herod the Great Idumean who, in 41 B.C., was granted provisional rule of Galilee by Mark Antony [the friend of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s last lover] .... In 30 B.C. Octavian (Caesar Augustus) affirmed Herod's rule over Judea, Samaria, and Galilee .... Herod remained in power until his death in 4 B.C…." (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 91).

But Herod was not just known for his great building, political and military skills, but also for his great cruelty. The Bible records his utter disregard for human life by describing his reaction to the birth of Jesus. When his scheme to identify the newborn Messiah failed (verses 7-8, 12), Herod lashed out with great violence: "Then Herod … sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under [the approximate age of Jesus], according to the time which he had determined from the wise men" (verse 16).

This massacre in Bethlehem was not out of character for Herod, who also had many members of his family put to death: “Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne [his wife] (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Bible Explorer Software, 1997).

The New Testament description of Herod the Great is thus confirmed by what historians and archaeologists have found concerning his rulership, building projects, political strength and uncontrollable wrath toward anyone threatening his kingship.

The Census of Caesar Augustus

Luke, a meticulous historian, introduces other famous personages in his account of the birth of Christ. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered … So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city" (Luke 2:1-3).

Ancient papyrus census decrees have been found for the years 20, 34, 48, 62 and 104. These show a wide-ranging census normally took place every 14 years, although local counts were, at times, taken more frequently. A papyrus in the British Museum describes a census similar to Luke's account, taken in 104, in which people were ordered to return to their birthplaces: "Gaius Vibius Mazimus, Prefect of Egypt: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those ... to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments" (Frederick G. Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, 1907, plate 30).

Joseph's Occupation in Nazareth

Joseph was a skilled craftsman who worked not only with wood, but with stone masonry. The usual term translated as "carpenter" in the Bible (Mark 6:3) is from the Greek term ‘tekton’, which has the broader meaning of 'artisan,' referring to a skilled worker who works on hard material such as wood or stone or even horn or ivory. “In Jesus' day construction workers were not as highly specialized as in today's workforce. For example, the tasks performed by carpenters and masons could easily overlap" (Richard A. Batey, Jesus & the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus, p. 76).

Although Nazareth was a small village in Galilee of no more than a few hundred inhabitants, Joseph and Jesus likely found steady work in the city of Sepphoris four miles away, where huge construction projects were transforming the city into a large, regional centre.

Recent archaeological excavations in Sepphoris show it to have been a bustling, prosperous city during the years Jesus grew up in nearby Nazareth. Shirley Jackson Case, professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, remarks “.... It requires no very daring flight of the imagination to picture the youthful Jesus seeking and finding employment in the neighboring city of Sepphoris. But whether or not he actually labored there, his presence in the city on various occasions can scarcely be doubted..." (Batey, pp. 70-71).

These historical records help us better understand the background of Christ's teachings, which included illustrations drawn not just from farming and animal husbandry, but also construction, rulers and nobility, the theater, government, finance and other aspects of city life.