The Bible Insights Weekly e-letter is freely available upon request.

Yes! Please Subscribe Me

Bible Insights Weekly

Enrich your spiritual thinking.

UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, January 06 2022

Who was Jesus Christ? (Part 1)

Jesus of Nazareth asked His disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" and Simon Peter answered, “...'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'" (Matthew 16:15-16). The high priest also demanded that Jesus tell them if he was “...the Christ, the Son of God" and Jesus said He was (Matthew 26:63-64).

by Tom Robinson

The term ‘Christ’ is an English derivative of the New Testament Greek word christos, which means "anointed." The equivalent Hebrew word in the Old Testament is mashiach, transliterated in the King James New Testament as messias (John 1:41; 4:25). This word has come down into modern English as "messiah" and both Christ and Messiah mean "anointed" or "anointed one."

The Oxford Companion to the Bible states anointing, "was widely practiced in the ancient Near East” ("Anoint," p. 30). Not only kings were anointed, but Israel's high priests (Exodus 29:7; Leviticus 4:3-5,16) and some prophets were also anointed (1 Kings 19:16). In biblical usage, anointing is an act of consecration, setting someone apart for the holy work of God. It was symbolic of the pouring out of God's Spirit (Isaiah 61:1; Romans 5:5) representing God's power and help to that person in performing their duties.

God set Jesus apart to be king, and when Pontius Pilate asked Him if He were a king, Jesus answered: "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world" (John 18:37). Jesus also fulfilled the roles of prophet and priest. He was the anointed prophet of Isaiah 61, bringing the Gospel message and shocking listeners by announcing, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:17-21).

Contrary to a view of the time that the Prophet and kingly Messiah were two different individuals, these two titles applied to Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, who was to be priest, prophet and king. Yet, when He was on earth Jesus did not serve as priest or king, and He did not restore Israel. When people actually tried to "take Him by force to make Him king," Jesus slipped away (John 6:15). He was later hailed as "King of the Jews," but this label was meant to mock Him while He was brutalized and crucified.

Many of Jesus' contemporaries failed to comprehend how He could have been the Messiah, because some of the prophecies seemed to contradict each other. How could the Messiah be a conquering king (Psalm 2) and, at the same time, a suffering, despised servant who would die (Isaiah 52:13-15; 53:1-12). Many therefore rejected the prophecies of the suffering servant as applying to the Messiah, seeing them as figurative of Israel.

Others believed two messiahs must come and that, "The Davidic messiah would be preceded by a secondary figure ... [who] would be killed" ((John Bowker, editor, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, 1997, "Messiah," p. 637). They did not understand that the Messiah would serve as the sacrifice for sin (Isaiah 53).

This anticipation of two messiahs may explain why John the Baptist sent messengers to Jesus while he was in prison to ask, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" (Matthew 11:3) prompting Jesus to send him a reassuring message that He really was the one destined to fulfill all the prophecies about the Messiah (Matthew 11:4-6).

To add to the confusion various would-be messiahs had emerged in opposition to the Roman occupation, such as Judas the Galilean and Theudas, a Jew from Egypt (Acts 5:36-37). These were all killed, but Jesus, unlike these false messianic claimants, rose from the dead after three days and nights and later offered this fact as specific proof of His messiahship (Matthew 12:39-40).

Jesus' own disciples did not fully understand who He was even after He explained it to them (Luke 9:22,44-45). But after His resurrection He appeared to two of the disciples and, "'... expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (Luke 24:27). Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, came to this earth, lived as a human being, died by crucifixion and was raised by God from the grave, and He will come again to rule the world, restore Israel and usher in everlasting peace.

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.