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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, January 06 2022

Who was Jesus Christ? (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this article we examined Jesus' identity as Christ. In Part 2 we address the rest of Peter's statement of Matthew 16:15-16, namely that Christ, the Messiah, was "...the Son of the living God."

by Tom Robinson

The first man, Adam, was referred to as a "son of God" (Luke 3:38), and angels were called the "sons of God" (Job 38:7). Converted Christians, begotten by the Holy Spirit, are also called "sons of God" (Romans 8:14-16), but Jesus claimed He was God's "only begotten Son" (John 3:16).

Jesus' identity as the only begotten Son of God was unique, because God the Father was directly His Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is true of no other person who has ever lived and is why the angel announced to Christ's mother, Mary, "...that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).

At no point was Jesus ever converted to God's way of righteousness. Though He grew in spiritual wisdom (Luke 2:40-52) He was, from conception, the perfect Son of God. Jesus' claim of being the Son of God and that “God was His Father” was not understood by many when He was on earth. They accused Him of blasphemy and of “making Himself equal with God" (John 5:18).

The Bible also reveals Jesus existed before His human conception. Referring to an event that occurred before the creation of mankind, Jesus said, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Luke 10:18), and when he was challenged over His claim of knowing and interacting with Abraham Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM" (John 8:56-59).

Not only was Jesus claiming preexistence by this statement, He was also claiming to be God! The Expositor's Bible Commentary explains: "'I am' implies continuous existence, including existence when Abraham appeared. Jesus was, therefore, asserting that at the time of Abraham's birth, he existed. Furthermore, I AM was recognized by the Jews as a title of deity. When God commissioned Moses to demand from Pharaoh the release of the Israelites, he said, 'This is what you are to say to the Israelites: "I AM has sent me to you"' (Exodus 3:14).” (1981, Vol. 9, p. 99).

This amazing truth is revealed elsewhere in the New Testament as well. The Apostle John began his Gospel with the explanation: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory..." (John 1:1-3, 14).

Paul also confirmed God "created all things through Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus, then, was God, with the Father being preeminent. Jesus explained, "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28). He serves as the Father's spokesman explaining: "...I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me..." (John 8:28). He functions as the "Word" of God—speaking and carrying out what the Father instructed Him, even commanding the universe into existence (Psalms 33:6).

The Apostle Paul explained the "Rock" of Israel in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalms 18:2) was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4) and was the "Lord" who interacted with people throughout the entire Old Testament. God, the Father, was generally unknown to mankind before Christ came in the flesh. In fact, one of the reasons Jesus came to earth was to reveal the Father (Matthew 11:27; John 1:18; 17:25-26).

Jesus told the Jews they had "neither heard His [the Father's] voice at any time, nor seen His form" (John 5:37). It was Jesus Christ who interacted with man as God on the Father's behalf, even giving the Ten Commandments to Israel. No wonder Jesus was to be called Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14), "...which is translated, 'God with us'" (Matthew 1:23). Jesus constantly referred to Himself as the Son of Man. He experienced temptation during His life in the flesh, including Satan's spiritual broadcast of wrong moods and attitudes (Ephesians 2:2), but Jesus never gave in and sinned (1 Peter 2:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

As the "Lamb of God" (John 1:29; Revelation 5:6), He laid down His life to pay the death penalty for the sins of all mankind and, before His death prayed to the Father, "And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was" (John 17:5). Thus, three days and nights after His burial, Jesus was resurrected to divine spirit life and restored to His former glorified state (Colossians 2:9; Romans 1:4).

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.