Names of God in the Bible
I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in my name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophecy lies? yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; Which think to cause my people to forget my name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbor, as their fathers have forgotten my name for Ba'al. . . .And when this people, or the prophet, or a priest, shall ask thee, saying, What is the burden of the Lord? thou shalt then say unto them, What burden? I will even forsake you, saith the Lord.
Jeremiah 23:25-27, 33
The titles or designations given to God throughout the Bible. In the ancient world, knowing another's name was a special privilege that offered access to the person's thought and life. God favored His people by revealing Himself by several names that offered special insight into His love and righteousness.
ABBA - [AB ah] - father : an Aramaic word that corresponds to our “Daddy” or “Papa.” It is found three times in the New Testament: in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36); the apostle Paul linked the Christian’s cry of “Abba, Father” with the “Spirit of adoption” (Rom. 8:15); and, again, Paul writes, “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” (Gal. 4:6). What a blessed privilege it is to be given the right to call the great Creator, “Our Father!"
ALPHA AND OMEGA - [AL fuh, oh MAY guh] - the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. This title is given to God the Father and God the Son (Rev. 1:8, 21:6). The risen Christ says, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last” (Rev. 22:13). By calling Jesus Christ the Alpha and the Omega, the writer of the book of Revelation acknowledged that He is the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Final Judge of all things.
ANCIENT OF DAYS - a name for God used by the prophet Daniel, who portrayed God on His throne, judging the great world empires of his day (Dan. 7:9, 13, 22).
BEGINNING - a title for Christ that declares His existence before time began. The Gospel of John declares that Jesus was present with the Father in the “beginning,” and therefore, the Creator of all things (John 1:2). Christ is called “the Beginning of the creation of God” (Rev. 3:14), and “the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13).
BEGOTTEN, ONLY - a New Testament phrase that describes Christ as the only, or unique, Son of His heavenly Father (John 1:14, 18: 3:16-18; 1 John 4:9; one and only, NIV). The Greek word expresses the idea of distinctiveness - “one of a kind.” As the unique Son, Jesus accomplished our salvation through His death on the cross.
BRANCH - a secondary stem or limb growing from the trunk of a tree. The arms of the golden lampstand made for the tabernacle are also described as branches. (Ex. 37:17-22). But the most significant use of this word in the Bible is a symbolic title for the Messiah.This messianic usage apparently originated with the prophet Isaiah (4:2; 11:1). It reappeared in the prophecies of Jeremiah, where it referred to a future king in the line of David, whose coming would bring judgment and righteousness. (Jer. 23:5-6). After the Captivity, the term was a recognized title for the Messiah (Zech. 3:8). By this time it had taken on priestly, as well as kingly, connotations. Both parts of this expectation are fulfilled by Christ, the Son of David, who is also our great High Priest.
BRANCH OF RIGHTEOUSNESS - Jeremiah 23:5-6 names the coming Messianic figure, the “Branch of Righteousness,” who will descend from David and be raised up to reign as King to execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. Christians see in this linkage a prophecy about God the Son, taking on human flesh to serve as righteous King.
BRIDEGROOM - a man who has recently been married or is about to be married. The term is applied symbolically to the Messiah. John the Baptist called Jesus the “bridegroom” (John 3:29). Jesus referred to Himself as the “bridegroom” (Matt. 9:15). Jesus’ bride, of course, is the church - those who are spiritually united with Him by faith.
EL - Another important root name for God in the Old Testament is El. By itself it refers to a god in the most general sense. It was widely used in the ancient eastern cultures whose languages are similar to Hebrew and therefore may refer either to the true God or to false gods. The highest Canaanite god was El, whose son was Baal. In the Bible the word is often defined properly by a qualifier like Jehovah: “I, the Lord (Jehovah) your God (Elohim), am a jealous God (El)” (Deut. 5:9).
EL ELOHE ISRAEL - [el e LOW he ISH ray el] - God, the God of Israel: (See EL.)
EL ELYON - [el EL yun] - God Most High: a Hebrew name for God. Translated into English, it means “God Most High” (Gen. 14:18-20). Melchizedek, king of Jerusalem, was the priest of God Most High.
ELOHIM - Elohim is the plural form of El, but it is usually translated in the singular. Some scholars have held that the plural represents and intensified form for the supreme God; others believe it describes the supreme God and His heavenly court of created beings. Still others hold that the plural form refers to the triune God of Genesis 1:1-3, who works through Word and Spirit in the creation of the world. In any event, Elohim conveys the idea that the one supreme being, who is the only true God, is in some sense plural.
Several important names of God identify Him as Branch, King, Wisdom, Shepherd, and Servant.
When the new age arrives with the birth of Jesus Christ, the names of the three persons who comprise the Trinity are made more explicit. These names fulfill the deeper meanings of the Old Testament names for God.
In the New Testament God is known as Father (Matt. 5:16; 28:19) and Abba (Mark 14:36; Gal. 4:6). Jesus is known as Son (Matt. 11:27), Son of God (John 9:35), Son of man (Matt. 8:20), Messiah (John 1:41), Lord (Rom. 14:8), Word (John 1:1), Wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30), Bridegroom (Mark 2:19), Shepherd (John 10:11), Vine (John 15:1), Light (John 1:9), and “I am” (John 8:12, 58). The Holy Spirit is known as the Helper (John 14:16).
The Bible does not seek to prove the existence of God; it simply affirms His existence by declaring, “In the beginning God . . . “ (Gen. 1:1). God has revealed Himself through the physical universe (Ps. 19:1; Rom. 1:19-20). By observing the universe, one can find positive indications of God’s existence. Creation reveals the results of a universal mind that devised a master plan and executed it. It makes more sense to accept the idea of God as Creator of the universe than to assume that our orderly universe came into existence apart from a divine being.
The greatest revelation of God, however, comes through the Bible. Through the inspired written record, both the existence of God and the nature of God are revealed in and through Jesus Christ. Jesus stated, “He that has seen me, has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Although the full revelation of God was in Jesus Christ, the human mind cannot fully understand God. One reason for this is that Scripture does not record all the actions and teachings of Jesus (John 21:25). Another reason is the limitation of the human mind. How can our infinite minds understand the infinity of God? It is not possible.
Although we cannot fully understand God, we still can know Him. We know Him through a personal relationship of faith and through a study of what the Bible teaches about His nature.
God may be described in terms of attributes. An attribute is an inherent characteristic of a person or being. While we cannot describe God in a comprehensive way, we can learn about Him by examining His attributes as revealed in the Bible. The first group is known as the natural attributes of God.
God is Spirit. Jesus taught that “God is Spirit” (John 4:24). God has no Body, no physical or measurable form. Thus, God is invisible. He became visible in human form in the person of Jesus Christ, but His essence is invisible.
God is Changeless. Progress and change may characterize some of His works, but God Himself remains unchanged (Heb. 1:12). He does not change; otherwise, He would not be perfect. Thus, what we know of God can be known with certainty. He is not different from one time to another.
God is All-Powerful. God’s power is unlimited. He can do anything that is not inconsistent with His nature, character, and purpose (Gen. 17:1; 18:14). The only limitations on God’s power are imposed by Himself (Gen. 18:25). “Impossible” is not in God’s vocabulary. God creates and sustains all things; yet He never grows weary (Is. 40:27-31).
God is All-Knowing. God possesses all knowledge (Job 38:39; Rom. 11:33-36). Because God is everywhere at one and the same time, He knows everything simultaneously. That God has the power to know the thoughts and motives of every heart is evident from many Scripture passages, notably Job 37:16, Psalm 147:5, and Hebrews 3:13.
God is Everywhere. God is not confined to any part of the universe but is present in all His power at every point in space and every moment in time (Ps. 139: 7-12). Thus, God does not belong to any one nation or generation. He is the God of the whole earth (Gen. 18:25).
God is Eternal. Eternity refers to God’s relation to time. Past, present, and future are known equally to Him (2 Pet. 3:8; Rev. 1:8). Time is like a parade that human beings see only a segment at a time. But God sees time in its entirety.
The second group of attributes is called moral attributes. These refer to God’s character, His essential nature.
God is Holiness. The word “holy” comes from the root word that means “to separate.” Thus, it refers to God as separated from or exalted about other things (Is. 6:1-3). Holiness refers to God’s moral excellence. Being holy, God demands holiness in His own children. And what He demands, He supplies. Holiness is God’s gift that we receive by faith through His Son, Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:24).
God is Righteousness. Righteousness as applied to God refers to His affirmation of what is right as opposed to what is wrong. The righteousness of God refers to His moral laws laid down to guide the conduct of human kind, as in the Ten Commandments. Righteousness also refers to God’s administration of justice. He brings punishment upon the disobedient (Gen. 18:25; Deut. 32:4; Rom. 2:6-16). Finally, God’s righteousness is redemptive. In the Book of Romans the righteousness of God refers to God’s declaring the believer to be in a state of righteousness as though he had never been unrighteous (Rom. 1:16-17; 3:24-26). This is possible because of the sacrificial death of Jesus on our behalf.
God is Love. Love is the essential, self-giving nature of God. God’s love for humankind seeks to awaken a responsive love of people for God. Divine love runs like a golden thread through the entire Bible. Nature is eloquent with the skill, wisdom, and power of God. Only in the Bible, however, do we discover God giving Himself and all His possessions to His creatures, in order to win their response and to possess them for Himself.
God loved and gave; He loved and sought - just as a shepherd seeks his sheep. God loved and suffered, providing His love by giving His all on the cross for the redemption of humanity. God, in His love, wills good for all His creatures (Gen. 1:31; Ps. 145:9; Mark 10:18).
God is Truth. All truth, whether natural, physical, or religious, is grounded in God. Thus, any seemingly inconsistent teaching between natural and physical sciences and God’s revelation of Himself is more apparent then real. Truth is magnified in an absolute way through God’s revelation.
God is Wisdom. God’s wisdom is revealed in His doing the best thing, at the best time, for the best purpose.
Some people have knowledge, but little wisdom, while the most wise at times have little knowledge. But God is “the only wise God” (1 Tim. 1:17). In creation, history, human lives, redemption, and Christ, His divine wisdom is revealed. Human beings, lacking wisdom, can claim God’s wisdom simply by asking (1 Kin. 3:9; James 1:5).
Believers’ understanding of God continues to increase throughout their earthly pilgrimage. It will finally be complete in eternity when we stand in the presence of God.
In Rom. 1:20 Paul used the term Godhead to describe what mankind ought to see in nature as a result of God’s creative handiwork - “His eternal power and Godhead bodily,” or “Deity.” This entire passage in Rom. describes how the human mind fails to understand the exalted Godhead because of its sinful rebellion and distortion of truth.
In the Colossians passage Paul declared that in Christ “dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9), in contrast to the “tradition of men” (Col. 2:8). In the Son of God who took on human form, the essential quality and character of God are wholly present. This was Paul’s way of emphasizing that Jesus is not a mere “divine man” like the heroes of the Greco-Roman world, but truly God - the Godhead or God Himself in human form.
The Holy Spirit is the one called to our side by Jesus to help us, to stand by us, to strengthen us and give assistance when needed. The Holy Spirit is the “other” helper (John 14:6). Just as Jesus was the Great Helper while on earth, the Holy Spirit is now our helper, if we desire His help.
The Holy Spirit appears in the Gospel of John as the power by which Christians are brought to faith and helped to understand their walk with God. He brings a person to new birth: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit” (John 3:6); “It is the Spirit who gives life” (John 6:63). The Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, or Helper, whom Jesus promised to the disciples after His ascension. The Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are unified in ministering to believers (John 14:16,26). It is through the Helper that Father and Son abide with the disciples (John 15:26).
This unified ministry of the Trinity is also seen as the Spirit brings the world under conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Hr guides believers into all truth with what He hears from the Father and the Son (John 15:26). It is a remarkable fact that each of the persons of the Trinity serves the others as all defer to one another. The Son says what He hears from the Father (John 12:49-50); the Father witnesses to and glorifies the Son (John 8:16-18, 50, 54); the Father and Son honor the Holy Spirit by commissioning Him to speak in their name (John 14:16, 26); the Holy Spirit honors the Father and Son by helping the community of believers.
Like Father and Son, the Holy Spirit is at the disposal of the other persons of the Trinity, and all three are one in graciously being at the disposal of the redeemed family of believers. The Holy Spirits attitude and ministry are marked by generosity; His chief function is to illumine Jesus’ teaching, to glorify His person, and to work in the life of the individual believer and the church.
This quality of generosity is prominent in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, where the Holy Spirit prepares the way for the births of John the Baptist and Jesus the Son (Matt. 1:20; Luke 1:15, 35, 41). At the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit of God is present in the form of a dove. This completes the presence of the Trinity at the inauguration of the Son’s ministry (Matt. 3:16-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:33). Jesus is also filled with the Holy Spirit as He is led into the wilderness to be tempted (Luke 4:1). He claims to be anointed by the Spirit of the Lord in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Is. 61:1; Luke 4:18-19).
During His ministry, Jesus refers to the Spirit of God (Matt. 12:28-29; Luke 11:20) as the power by which He is casting out demons, thereby invading the stronghold of Beelzebub and freeing those held captive. Accordingly, the Spirit works with the Father and Son realizing the redeeming power of the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is not only the reign of the Son but also the reign of the Spirit, as all share in the reign of the Father.
The person and ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels is confirmed by His work in the early church. The baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5) is the pouring out of the Spirit’s power in missions and evangelism (Acts 1:8). This prophecy of Jesus (and of Joel 2: 28-32) begins on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-18). Many of those who hear of the finished work of God in Jesus’ death and resurrection (Acts 2:32-38) repent of their sins. In this act of repentance, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), becoming witnesses of God’s grace through the Spirit.
Paul’s teaching about the Holy Spirit harmonizes with the accounts of the Spirit’s activity in the gospels and Acts. According to Paul, it is by the Holy Spirit that one confesses that Jesus is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3). Through the same Spirit varieties of gifts are given to the body of Christ to ensure its richness and unity (1 Cor. 12:4-27). The Holy Spirit is the way to Jesus Christ the Son (Rom. 8:11) and to the Father (Rom. 8:4-5). He is the person who bears witness to us that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16-17). He “Makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26-27).
The Holy Spirit also reveals to Christians the deep things of God (1 Cor. 2:10-12) and the mystery of Christ (Eph. 3:3-5). The Holy Spirit acts with God and Christ as the pledge or guarantee by which believers are sealed for the day of salvation (2 Cor. 1:21-22), by which they walk and live (Rom. 15:13). Against the lust and enmity of the flesh Paul contrasts the fruit of the Spirit: “Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5: 2-23).
Since the Holy Spirit is the expressed power of the Trinity, it is imperative that one not grieve the Spirit, since no further appeal to the Father and the Son on the day of redemption is available (Eph. 4:30). Jesus made this clear in His dispute with the religious authorities, who attributed His ministry to Satan and thereby committed the unforgivable sin (Matt. 12:22-32; John 8:37-59).
In Paul’s letters Christian liberty stems from the work of the Holy Spirit: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). This is a process of “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord,” and “being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). The personal work of the Holy Spirit is accordingly one with that of the Father and the Son, so Paul can relate the grace, love, and communion of the Trinity in a trinitarian benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen” (2 Cor. 13:14).
Among the other New Testament writings the Spirit’s ministry is evident in the profound teaching of Hebrews 9:14, which shows the relationship of God, Christ, and the eternal Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s work in the Old Testament in preparation for the coming of Christ is explained in this and other passages in Hebrews (3:7; 9:8; 19:15-17).
This leads us to consider the workings of the Spirit in the Old Testament in the light of His ministry in the New Testament. Although the phrase “Holy Spirit” occurs only three times in the Old Testament (Ps. 51:11; Is. 63:10-11), the Spirit’s work is everywhere evident. The Spirit is the energy of God in creation (Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13; Is. 32:15). God endows human beings with personal life by breathing into their nostrils the breath of life (Gen. 2:7). The Spirit strives with fallen humankind (Gen. 6:3) and comes upon certain judges and warriors with charismatic power (Joshua, Num. 27:18; Othniel, Judg. 3:10; Gideon, Judg. 6:34; Samson, Judg. 13:25; 14:6). However, the Spirit departs from Saul because of his disobedience.
In the long span of Old Testament prophecy the Spirit plays a prominent role. David declared, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). Ezekiel claimed that “the Spirit entered me when He spoke to me” (Ezek. 2:2). The Spirit also inspired holiness in the Old Testament believer (Ps. 143:10). It also promised to give a new heart to God’s people. “I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes” (Ezek. 36:27).
This anticipates the crucial work of the Spirit in the ministry of the Messiah. The prophecy of Isaiah 11:1-5 is a trinitarian preview of the working of the Father, the Spirit, and the Son, who is the Branch of Jesse. Looking forward to the ministry of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit inspired Isaiah to prophesy: “The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him” (Is. 11:2). The Holy Spirit inspired Jesus with wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear of the Lord, righteousness, and faithfulness. Thus we come full cycle to the New Testament where Jesus claims the fulfillment of this prophecy in Himself (Is. 61:1-2; Luke 4:18-19).
Isaiah 42:1-9 summarized the redeemed work of the Father, Son, and Spirit in the salvation of the lost, as God spoke through the prophet: “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles” (Is. 42:1). No clearer reflection of the intimate interworking of the persons of the Trinity can be found in the Old Testament than in this prophecy. It ties God’s grace in Old and New together in remarkable harmony.
In the time of the prophet Isaiah, Syria and Israel were attacking Judah in an attempt to force King Ahaz of Judah to join a coalition against Assyria. Judah called on Ahaz to put his trust in the word of the Lord so the threat of Syria and Israel would come to nothing (Is. 7:1-9). Then the prophet announced God’s intention to give Ahaz a sign that His word was true. Syria and Israel would lose their capacity to be a treat to Judah. But before this peace and prosperity becomes a reality, Israel announced there would be a drastic purging judgment in the hands of the king of Assyria. Only a remnant would experience the good future that God had intended for His people (Is. 7:10-25).
The sign that God promised to provide to Ahaz was the birth of a child within whose childhood years these events of promise and judgment would take place. The child would be given the name Immanuel, meaning “God with us,” as a symbol of Judah’s hope in the midst of adversity (Is. 8:8,10). God would be with His people, in spite of the devastation wrought by the forces of the Assyrians (Is. 8:7-8). Immanuel offered a future and a hope for those who would place their trust in God.
The identity of this child and the circumstances of his birth are much disputed. This remarkable prophecy achieved its full meaning with the coming of Jesus. But there may have been an initial fulfillment in the eighth century B.C. when Hezekiah was born to the wicked King Ahaz. When Hezekiah took over the throne, he did lead many moral reforms that brought the people of Judah closer to God. Some scholars believe this may have been the child Isaiah had in mind when he announced this prophecy. Others think the child may have been a son born to Isaiah and “the prophetess” (Is. 8:3). In that case, “Immanuel” would have been another name for Mahar-Shalal-Hash-Baz.
Regardless of Isaiah’s understanding, Matthew rightly recognized that hope of restoration through the house of David reached its ultimate fulfillment only with Jesus (Matt. 1:23). With the coming of Jesus, God is with us in the most profound sense. With the virgin birth God’s pattern of working out His purposes through special births (Gen. 3:15; 1 Sam. 2:1-10; 2 Sam. 7:12-16) reaches its climax. And in Jesus God is with us always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).
God is the author of life and salvation. His “I am” expresses the fact that He is the infinite and original personal God who is behind everything and to whom everything must finally be traced. “I am who I am” signals the truth that nothing else defines who God is but God Himself. What He says and does is who He is. The inspired Scriptures are the infallible guide to understanding who God is by what He says about Himself and what He does. Yahweh is the all-powerful and sovereign God who alone defines Himself and establishes truth for His creatures and works for their salvation.
Moses was called to proclaim deliverance to the people and was told by God, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Ex. 3:14). In the deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt, God revealed a deeper significance to His name. But He had already disclosed Himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as Yahweh. Each of them had called on the name of the Lord (Yahweh) (Gen. 12:8; 13:4; 26:25; Ex. 3:15) as the God who protects and blesses. Yet Exodus 6:3 shows that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did not know the fuller meaning of Yahweh, which was to be revealed to Moses and the Hebrew people in His role as Redeemer during the Exodus experience.
The divine name of Yahweh is usually translated “Lord” in English versions of the Bible, because it became a practice in late Old Testament Judaism not to pronounce the sacred name YHVH, but to say instead, “my Lord” (Adonai) - a practice still used today in the synagogue. When the vowels of Adonai were attached to the consonants YHVH in the medieval period, the word Jehovah resulted. Today, many Christians used the name Yahweh, the more original pronunciation, not hesitating to name the divine name since Jesus taught believers to speak in a familiar way to God.
The following are other names in honor of the Lord in the Old Testament that stem from the basic name of Yahweh.
To understand who Jesus was and what He accomplished, students of the New Testament must study: (1) His life, (2) His teachings, (3) His person, and (4) His work.
The life of Jesus. The twofold designation Jesus Christ combines the personal name “Jesus” and the title “Christ,” meaning “anointed” or “Messiah.” The significance of this title became clear during the scope of His life and ministry.
Birth and Upbringing - Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a town about 10 kilometers (six miles) south of Jerusalem, toward the end of Herod the Great’s reign as king of the Jews (37-4 B.C.). Early in His life He was taken to Nazareth, a town of Galilee. There He was brought up by His mother, Mary, and her husband, Joseph, a carpenter by trade. Hence He was known as “Jesus of Nazareth” or, more fully, “Jesus of Nazareth the Son of Joseph” (John 1:45).
Jesus was His mother’s firstborn child; He had four brothers (James, Joses, Judas, and Simon) and an unspecified number of sisters (Mark 6:3). Joseph apparently died before Jesus began His public ministry. Mary, with the rest of the family lived on and became a member of the church of Jerusalem after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The only incident preserved from Jesus’ first thirty years (after His infancy) was His trip to Jerusalem with Joseph and Mary when He was 12 years old (Luke 2:41-52). Since He was known in Nazareth as “the carpenter” (Mark 6:3), He may have taken Joseph’s place as the family breadwinner at an early age.
The little village of Nazareth overlooked my main highway linking Damascus to the Mediterranean coast and Egypt. News of the world outside Galilee probably reached Nazareth quickly. During His boyhood Jesus probably heard of the revolt led by Judas the Galilean against the Roman authorities. This happened when Judea, to the south, became a Roman province in A.D.6 and its inhabitants had to pay tribute to Caesar. Jews probably heard also of the severity with which the revolt was crushed.
Galilee, the province in which Jesus lived, was ruled by Herod Antipas, youngest son of Herod the Great. So the area where He lived was not directly involved in this revolt. But the sympathies of many Galileans were probably stirred. No doubt the boys of Nazareth discussed this issue, which they heard their elders debating. There is no indication of what Jesus thought about this event at the time. But we do know what He said about it in Jerusalem 24 years later (Mark 12:13-17).
Sepphoris, about six kilometers (four miles) northwest of Nazareth, had been the center of an anti-Roman revolt during Jesus’ infancy. The village was destroyed by the Romans, but it was soon rebuilt by Herod Antipas. Antipas lived there as tetrarch of Galilee and Perea until He found a new capital for his principality at Tiberias, on the western shore of the Lake of Galilee (A.D.22). Reports of happenings at his court, while he lived in Sepphoris, were probably carried to Nazareth. A royal court formed the setting for several of Jesus’ parables.
Scenes from Israel’s history could be seen from the rising ground above Nazareth. To the south stretched the Valley of Jezreel, where great battles had been fought in earlier days. Beyond the Valley of Jezreel was Mount Gilboa, where King Saul fell in battle with the Philistines. To the east Mount Tabor rose to 562 meters (1,843 feet), the highest elevation in that part of the country. A growing boy would readily find his mind moving back and forth between the stirring events of former days and the realities of the contemporary situation: the all-pervasive presence of the Romans.
Beginnings of Jesus’ Ministry - Jesus began His public ministry when He sought baptism at the hands of John the Baptist. John preached between A.D.27 and 28 in the lower Jordan Valley and baptized those who wished to give expression to their repentance (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:29-34). The descent of the dove as Jesus came up out of the water was a sign that He was the One anointed by the Spirit of God as the Servant-Messiah of His people (Is. 11:2; 42:1; 61:1).
A voice from heaven declared, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). This indicated that He was Israel’s anointed King, destined to fulfill His kingship as the Servant of the Lord described centuries before by the prophet Isaiah (Is. 42:1; 52:13).
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus’ baptism is followed immediately by His temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). This testing confirmed His understanding of the heavenly voice and His acceptance of the path that it marked out for Him. He refused to use His power as God’s Son to fulfill His personal desires, to amaze the people, or to dominate the world by political and military force.
Apparently, Jesus ministered for a short time in southern and central Palestine, while John the Baptist was still preaching (John 3:22-4:42). But the main phase of Jesus’ ministry began in Galilee, after John’s imprisonment by Herod Antipas. This was the signal, according to Mark 1:14-15, for Jesus to proclaim God’s Good News in Galilee: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” What is the character of this kingdom? How was it to be established?
A popular view was that the kingdom of God meant throwing off the oppressive yoke of Rome and establishing and independent state of Israel. Judas Maccabeus and his brothers and followers had won independence for the Jewish people in the second century B.C. by guerilla warfare and diplomatic skill. Many of the Jewish people believed that with God’s help, the same thing could happen again. Other efforts had failed, but the spirit of revolt remained. If Jesus had consented to become the military leader, which the people wanted, many would gladly have followed Him. But in spite of His temptation, Jesus resisted taking this path.
Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God was accomplished by works of mercy and power, including the healing of the sick, particularly those who were demon possessed. These works also proclaimed the arrival of the kingdom of God. The demons who caused such distress to men and women were signs of the kingdom of Satan. When they were cast out, this proved the superior strength of the kingdom of God.
For a time, Jesus’ healing aroused great popular enthusiasm throughout Galilee. But the religious leaders and teachers found much of Jesus’ activities disturbing. He refused to be bound by their religious ideas. He befriended social outcasts. He insisted on understanding and applying the law of God in the light of its original intention, not according to the popular interpretation of the religious establishment. He insisted on healing sick people on the Sabbath day. He believed that healing people did not profane the Sabbath but honored it, because it was established by God for the rest and relief of human beings (Luke 6:6-11).
This attitude brought Jesus into conflict with the scribes, the official teachers of the law. He was soon barred from preaching in the synagogues. But this was no great inconvenience. He simply gathered larger congregations to listen to Him on the hillside or by the lakeshore. He regularly illustrated the main theory of His preaching by parables. These were simple stories from daily life that would drive home some simple point and make it stick in the hearers’ understanding.
The Mission of the Twelve and its Sequel - From among the large number of His followers, Jesus selected 12 men to remain in His company for training that would enable them to share His preaching and healing ministry. When He judged the time to be ripe, Jesus sent them out two by two to proclaim the kingdom of God throughout the Jewish districts of Galilee. In many places, they found an enthusiastic hearing.
Probably some who heard these disciples misunderstood the nature of the kingdom they proclaimed. Perhaps the disciples themselves used language that could be interpreted as stirring political unrest. News of their activity reached Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, arousing his suspicion. He had recently murdered John the Baptist. Now he began to wonder if he faced another serious problem in Jesus.
On the return of His 12 apostles, they withdrew under Jesus’ leadership from the publicity that surrounded them in Galilee to the quieter territory east of the Lake of Galilee. This territory was ruled by Antipas’ brother Philip - “Philip the tetrarch” - who had only a few Jews among his subjects. Philip was not as likely to be troubled by Messianic excitement.
But even here Jesus and His disciples found themselves pursued by enthusiastic crowds from Galilee. He recognized them for what they were, “sheep without a shepherd,” sinless people who were in danger of being led to disaster under the wrong kind of leadership.
Jesus gave these people further teaching, feeding them also with loaves and fishes. But this only stimulated them to try to compel Him to be the king for whom they were looking. He would not be the kind of king they wanted, and they had no use for the kind of king He was prepared to be. From then on, His popularity in Galilee began to decline. Many of His disciples no longer followed Him.
He took the Twelve further north, into Gentile territory. Here He gave them special training to prepare them for the crisis they would have to meet shortly in Jerusalem. He knew the time was approaching when He would present His challenging message to the people of the capital and to the Jewish leaders.
At the city of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus decided the time was ripe to encourage the Twelve to state their convictions about His identity and His mission. When Peter declared that He was the Messiah, this showed that he and the other apostles had given up most of the traditional ideas about the kind of person the Messiah would be. But the thought that Jesus would have to suffer and die was something they could not accept. Jesus recognized that He could now make a beginning with the creation of a new community. In this community of God’s people, the ideals of the kingdom He proclaimed would be realized.
These ideals that Jesus taught were more revolutionary in many ways then the insurgent spirit that survived the overthrow of Judas the Galilean. The Jewish rebels against the rule of Rome developed into a party known as the Zealots. They had no better policy than to counter force with force, which, in Jesus’ view, was like invoking Satan to drive out Satan. The way of nonresistance that He urged upon the people seemed impractical. But it eventually proved to be more effective against the might of Rome than armed rebellion.
Jerusalem: The Last Phase - At the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall of A.D.29, Jesus went to Jerusalem with the Twelve. He apparently spent the next six months in the southern part of Palestine. Jerusalem, like Galilee, needed to hear the message of the kingdom. But Jerusalem was more resistant to it even then Galilee. The spirit of revolt was in the air; Jesus’ way of peace was not accepted. This was why He wept over the city. He realized the way that so many of its citizens preferred was bound to lead to their destruction. Even the magnificent temple, so recently built by Herod the Great, would be involved in the general overthrow.
During the week before Passover in A.D.30, Jesus taught each day in the temple area, debating with other teachers of differing beliefs. He was invited to state His opinion on a number of issues, including the question of paying taxes to the Roman emperor. This was a test question with the Zealots. In their eyes, to acknowledge the rule of a pagan king was high treason against God, Israel’s true King.
Jesus replied that the coinage in which these taxes had to be made belonged to the Roman emperor because his name and face were stamped on it. Let the emperor have what so obviously belonged to him, Jesus declared; it was more important to make sure that God received what was due Him.
This answer disappointed those patriots who followed the Zealot line. Neither did it make Jesus popular with the priestly authorities. They were terrified by the rebellious spirit in the land. Their favored position depended on maintaining good relations with the ruling Romans. If revolt broke out, the Romans would hold them responsible for not keeping the people under control. They were afraid that Jesus might provoke an outburst that would bring the heavy hand of Rome upon the city.
The enthusiasm of the people when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey alarmed the religious leaders. So did His show of authority when He cleared the temple of traders and money changers. This was a “prophetic action” in the tradition of the great prophets of Israel. Its message to the priestly establishment came through loud and clear. The prophets’ vision of the temple - “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Is. 56:7) - was a fine ideal. But any attempt to make it measure up to reality would be a threat to the priestly privileges. Jesus’ action was as disturbing as Jeremiah’s speech foretelling the destruction of Solomon’s temple had been to the religious leaders six centuries earlier (Jer. 26:1-6).
To block the possibility of an uprising among the people, the priestly party decided to arrest Jesus as soon as possible. The opportunity came earlier than they expected when one of the Twelve, Judas Ascariot, offered to deliver Jesus into their power without the risk of a public disturbance. Arrested on Passover Eve, Jesus was brought first before the Jewish court of inquiry, over which the high priest Caiaphas presided.
The Jewish leaders attempted first to convict Him of being a threat to the temple. Protection of the sanctity of the temple was the one area in which the Romans still allowed the Jewish authorities to exercise authority. But this attempt failed. Then Jesus accepted their charge that He claimed to be the Messiah. This gave the religious leaders an occasion to hand Him over to Pilate on a charge of treason and sedition.
While “Messiah” was primarily a religious title, it could be translated into political terms as “king of the Jews.” Anyone who claimed to be king of the Jews, as Jesus admitted He did, presented a challenge to the Roman emperor’s rule in Judea. On this charge Pilate, the Roman governor, finally convicted Him. This was the charge spelled in the inscription fixed above His head on the cross. Death by crucifixion was the penalty for sedition by one who was not a Roman citizen.
With the death and burial of Jesus, the narrative of His earthly career came to an end. But with Hs resurrection on the third day, He lives and works forever as the exalted Lord. His appearances to His disciples after His resurrection assured them He was “alive after His suffering” (Acts 1:3). These appearances enabled them to make the transition in their experience from the form in which they had known Him earlier, to the new way in which they would be related to Him by the Holy Spirit.
The Teachings of Jesus - Just as Jesus’ life was unique, so His teachings are known for their fresh and new approach. Jesus taught several distinctive spiritual truths that set Him apart from any other religious leader who ever lived.
The Kingdom of God - The message Jesus began to proclaim in Galilee after John the Baptist’s imprisonment was the good news of the kingdom of God. When He appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, He continued “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). What did Jesus mean by the kingdom of God?
When Jesus announced that the kingdom of God was drawing near, many of His hearers must have recognized and echo of those visions recorded in the Book of Daniel. These prophecies declared that one day “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed” (Dan. 2:44). Jesus’ announcement indicated the time had come when the authority of this kingdom would be exercised.
The nature of this kingdom is determined by the character of the God whose kingdom it is. The revelation of God lay at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus called Him “Father” and taught His disciples to do the same. But the term that He used when He called God “Father” was Abba (Mark 14:36), the term of affection that children used when they addressed their father at home or spoke about him to others. It was not unusual for God to be addressed in prayer as “my Father” or “our Father.” But it was most unusual for Him to be called Abba. By using this term, Jesus expressed His sense of nearness to God and His total trust in Him. He taught His followers to look to God with the trust that children show when they expect their earthly fathers to provide them with food, clothes, and shelter.
This attitude is especially expressed in the Lord’s Prayer, which may be regarded as a brief summary of Jesus’ teaching. In this prayer the disciples were taught to pray for the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose (the coming of His kingdom) and to ask Him for daily bread, forgiveness of sins, and deliverance from temptation.
In Jesus’ healing of the sick and proclaiming of the good news to the poor, the kingdom of God was visibly present, although it was not yet fully realized. Otherwise, it would not have been necessary for Him to tell His disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10). One day, He taught, it would come “with power” (Mark 9:1), and some of them would live to see that day.
In the kingdom of God the way to honor is the way of service. In this respect, Jesus set a worthy example, choosing to give service instead of receiving it.
The death and resurrection of Jesus unleashed the kingdom of God in full power. Through proclamation of the kingdom, liberation and blessing were brought to many more than could be touched by Jesus’ brief ministry in Galilee and Judea.
The Way of the Kingdom - The ethical teaching of Jesus was part of His proclamation of the kingdom of God. Only by His death and resurrection could the divine rule be established. But even while the kingdom of God was in the process of inauguration during His ministry, its principles could be translated into action in the lives of His followers. The most familiar presentation of these principles is found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5 - 7), which was addressed to His disciples. These principles showed how those who were already children of the kingdom ought to live.
Jesus and the Law of Moses - The people whom Jesus taught already had a large body of ethical teaching in the Old Testament law. But a further body of oral interpretation and application had grown up around the law of Moses over the centuries. Jesus declared that He had come to fulfill the law, not to destroy it (Matt. 5:7). But He emphasized its ethical quality by summarizing it in terms of what He called the two great commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God” (Deut. 6:5) and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). “On these two commandments, “ He said, “hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40).
Jesus did not claim uniqueness or originality for His ethical teaching. One of His purposes was to explain the ancient law of God. Yet there was a distinctiveness and freshness about His teaching, as He declared His authority: “You have heard that it is said . . .But I say to you” (Matt. 5:21-22). Only in listening to His words and doing them could people build a secure foundation for their lives (Matt. 7:24-27; Luke 6:46-49).
In His interpretation of specific commandments, Jesus did not use the methods of the Jewish rabbis. He dared to criticize their rulings, which had been handed down by word of mouth through successive generations of scribes. He even declared that these interpretations sometimes obscured the original purpose of the commandments. In appealing to the original purpose of these interpretations sometimes obscured the original purpose. He declared that a commandment was most faithfully obeyed when God’s purpose in giving it was fulfilled. His treatment of the Sabbath law is an example of this approach.
In a similar way, Jesus settled the question of divorce by an appeal to the original marriage ordinance (Gen. 1:26-27; 2:24-25). Since husband and wife were made one by the Creator’s decree, Jesus pointed out, divorce was an attempt to undo the work of God. If the law later allowed for divorce in certain situations (Deut. 24:1-4), that was a concession to people’s inability to keep the commandment. But it was not so in the beginning, He declared, and it should not be so for those who belong to the kingdom of God.
Jesus actually injected new life into the ethical principles of the Law of Moses. But He did not impose a new set of laws that could be enforced by external sanctions; He prescribed a way of life for His followers. The act of murder, forbidden in the sixth commandment, was punishable by death. Conduct or language likely to provoke a breach of the peace could also bring on legal penalties. No human law can detect or punish the angry thought; yet it is here, Jesus taught, that the process that leads to murder begins. Therefore, “whoever is angry with his brother . . . shall be in danger of judgment” (Matt. 5:22). But He was careful to point out that the judgment is God’s, not man’s.
The law could also punish a person for breaking to seventh commandment, which forbade adultery. But Jesus maintained that the act itself was an outcome of a person’s internal thought. Therefore, “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).
Jesus’ attitude and teaching also made many laws about property irrelevant for His followers. They should be known as people who give, not as people who get. If someone demands your cloak (outer garment), Jesus said, give it to him, and give him your tunic (undergarment) as well (Luke 6:29). There is more to life than abundance of possessions (Luke 12:15); in fact, He pointed out, material wealth is a hindrance to one’s spiritual life. The wise man therefore will get rid of it: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25). In no area have Jesus’ followers struggled more to avoid the uncompromising rigor of His words than in His teaching about the danger of possessions.
Jesus insisted that more is expected of His followers than the ordinary morality of decent people. Their ethical behavior should exceed “the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matt. 5:20). “If you love (only) those who love you,” He said, “what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:32). The higher standard of the kingdom of God called for acts of love to enemies and words of blessing and goodwill to persecutors. The children of God should not insist on their legal rights but cheerfully give them up in response to the supreme law of love.
The Way of Nonviolence - The principle of nonviolence is deeply ingrained in Jesus’ teaching. In His reference to the “men of violence” who tried to bring in the kingdom of God by force, Jesus gave no sign that He approved of their ideals or methods. The course He called for was the way of peace and submission. He urged His hearers not to strike back against injustice or oppression but to turn the other cheek, to go a second mile when their services were demanded for one mile, and to take the initiative in returning good for bad.
But the way of nonviolence did not appeal to the people. The crowd chose the militant Barabbas when they were given the opportunity to have either Jesus or Barabbas set free. But the attitude expressed in the shout, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” (Matt. 27:15-26) was the spirit that would one day level Jerusalem and bring misery and suffering to the Jewish nation.
The Supreme Example - In the teaching of Jesus, the highest of all incentives is the example of God. This was no new principle. The central section of Leviticus is called “the law of holiness” because of its recurring theme: “I am the Lord your God . . . Be Holy; for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44). This bears a close resemblance to Jesus’ words in Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” The children of God should reproduce their Father’s character. He does not discriminate between good and evil in bestowing rain and sunshine; likewise, His followers should not discriminate in showing kindness to all. He delights in forgiving sinners; His children should also be marked by a forgiving spirit.
The example of the heavenly Father and the example shown by Jesus on earth are one and the same, since Jesus came to reveal the Father. Jesus’ life was the principle demonstration of His ethical teaching. To His disciples He declared, “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).
This theme of the imitation of Christ pervades the New Testament letters. It is especially evident in the writings of Paul, who was not personally acquainted with Jesus before he met Him on the Damascus Road. Paul instructed his converts to follow “the meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1). He also encouraged them to imitate him as he himself imitated Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). When he recommended to them the practice of all the Christian graces, he declared, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14). Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is presented as the One who left us an example, that we should follow in His steps (1 Pet. 2:21).
The Person of Christ - The doctrine of the person of Christ, or Christology, is one of the most important concerns of Christian theology. The various aspects of the person of Christ are best seen by reviewing the titles that are applied to Him in the Bible.
Son of Man - The title “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite way of referring to Himself, He may have done this because this was not a recognized title already known by the people and associated with popular ideas. This title means essentially “The Man.” But as Jesus used it, it took on a new significance.
Jesus applied this title to Himself in three distinct ways:
First, He used the title in a general way, almost as a substitute for the pronoun “I.”
A good example of this usage occurred in the saying where Jesus contrasted John the Baptist, who “came neither eating bread nor drinking wine,” with the Son of Man, who, “has come eating and drinking” (Luke 7:33-34). Another probable example is the statement that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58). In this instance He warned a would-be disciple that those who wanted to follow Him must expect to share His homeless existence.
Second, Jesus used the title to emphasize that “the Son of Man must suffer” (Mark 8:31). The word “must” implies that His suffering was foretold by the prophets. It was, indeed, “written concerning the Son of Man, that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt” (Mark 9:12). So when Jesus announced the presence of the betrayer at the Last Supper, He declared, “The Son of Man indeed goes just as it is written of Him” (Mark 14:21). Later the same evening He submitted to His captors with the words, “The Scriptures must be fulfilled” (Mark 14:49).
Finally, Jesus used the title “Son of Man” to refer to Himself as the one who exercised exceptional authority - authority delegated to Him by God. “The Son of Man has power [authority] on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10), He declared. He exercised this authority in a way that made some people criticize Him for acting with the authority of God: “The Son of Man is also the Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28).
The Son of Man appeared to speak and act in these cases as the representative human being. If God had given people dominion over all the works of His hands, then He who was the Son of Man in this special representative sense was in a position to exercise that dominion.
Near the end of His ministry, Jesus spoke of His authority as the Son of Man at the end of time. Men and women “will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” He declared (Mark 13:26). He also stated to the high priest and other members of the supreme court of Israel: “You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62). He seemed deserted and humiliated as He stood there awaiting their verdict. But the tables would be turned when they saw Him vindicated by God as Ruler and Judge of all the world.
Only once was Jesus referred to as the Son of Man by anyone other than Himself. This occurred when Stephen, condemned by the Jewish Sanhedrin, saw “The Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). In Stephen’s vision the Son of Man stood as his heavenly advocate, in fulfillment of Jesus’ words: “Whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man will confess before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8).
Messiah - When Jesus made His declaration before the high priest and His colleagues, He did so in response to the question: “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61). He replied, “I am” (Mark 14:62). “It is as you said” (Matt. 26:64).
The Christ was the Messiah, the Son of David - a member of the royal family of David. For centuries the Jewish people had expected a Messiah who would restore the fortunes of Israel, liberating the nation from foreign oppression and extending His rule over Gentile nations.
Jesus belonged to the royal family of David. He was proclaimed as the Messiah of David’s line, before both His birth and after His resurrection. But He Himself was slow to make messianic claims. The reason for this is that the ideas associated with the Messiah in the minds of the Jewish people were quite different from the character and purpose of His ministry. Thus, He refused to give them any encouragement.
When, at Caesarea Philippi, Peter confessed Jesus to be the Messiah, Jesus directed him and his fellow disciples to tell no one that He was the Christ. After His death and resurrection, however, the concept of messiahship among the followers was transformed by what He said and did. Then He could safely be proclaimed as Messiah, God’s Anointed King, resurrected in glory to occupy the throne of the universe.
Son of God - Jesus was proclaimed as the Son of God at His baptism (Mark 1:11). But He was also given this title by the angel Gabriel at the annunciation: “That Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). The Gospel of John especially makes it clear that the Father-Son relationship belongs to eternity - that the Son is supremely qualified to reveal the Father because He has His eternal being “in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18).
At one level the title “Son of God” belonged officially to the Messiah, who personified the nation of Israel. “Israel is My Son, My firstborn,” said God to Pharaoh (Ex. 4:22). Of the promised prince of the house of David, God declared, “I will make Him My firstborn” (Ps. 89:27).
But there was nothing merely official about Jesus’ consciousness of being the Son of God. He taught His disciples to think of God and to speak to Him as their Father.
But He did not link them with Himself in this relationship and speak to them of “our Father” - yours and mine. The truth expressed in His words in John 20:17 is implied throughout His teaching: “My Father and your Father . . . My God and your God.”
As the Son of God in a special sense, Jesus made Himself known to the apostle Paul on the Damascus Road. Paul said, “It pleased God . . . to reveal His Son to me” (Gal. 1:15-16). The proclamation of Jesus as the Son of God was central to Paul’s preaching (Acts 9:20; 2 Cor. 1:19).
When Jesus is presented as the Son of God in the New Testament, two aspects of His person are emphasized: His eternal relation to God as His Father and His perfect revelation of the Father to the human race.
Word and Wisdom - Jesus perfect revelation of the Father is also expressed when He is described as the Word (logos) of God (John 1:1-18). The Word is the self-expression of God; that self-expression has personal status, existing eternally with God. The Word by which God create the world (Ps. 33:6) and by which He spoke to the prophets “became flesh” in the fullness of time (John 1:14), living among men and women as Jesus of Nazareth.
Much that is said in the Old Testament about the Word of God is paralleled by what is said of the Wisdom of God: “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth” (Pro. 3:19). In the New Testament Christ is portrayed as the personal Wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24, 30) - the one through whom all things were created (1 Cor. 8:6; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2).
The Holy One of God - This title was given to Jesus by Peter (John 6:69, NIV, NRSV) and remarkably, by a demon-possessed man (Mark 1:24). In their preaching, the apostles called Jesus “the Holy One and the Just” (Acts 3:14). This was a name belonging to Him as the Messiah, indicating He was probably set apart for God. This title also emphasized His positive goodness and His complete dedication to the doing of His Father’s will. Mere “sinlessness,” in the sense of the absence of any fault, is a pale quality in comparison to the unsurpassed power for righteousness that filled His life and teaching.
The Lord - “Jesus is Lord” is the ultimate Christian creed. “No one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). A Christian, therefore, is a person who confesses Jesus as Lord.
Several words denoting lordship were used of Jesus in the New Testament. The most frequent, and the most important in relation to the doctrine of His person, was a Greek word kyrios. It was frequently given to Him as a polite term of address, meaning “Sir.” Sometimes the title was used of Him in the third person, when the disciples and others spoke of Him as “The Lord” or “The Master.”
After His resurrection and exaltation, however, Jesus was given the title “Lord” in its full, Christological sense. Peter, concluding his address to the crowd in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, declared, “Let all the people of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36).
The title “Lord” in the Christological sense must have been given to Jesus before the church moved out into the Gentile world. The evidence for this is the invocation “Maranatha” (KJV) or “O Lord, come!” (1 Cor. 16:22). The apostle Paul. writing to the Gentile church in the Greek-speaking world, assumed that its members were familiar with the Aramaic phrase. It was an early church title for Jesus which was taken over untranslated. It bears witness to the fact that from the earliest days of the church, the One who had been exalted as Lord was expected to return as Lord.
Another key New Testament text that shows the sense in which Jesus was acknowledged as Lord is Philippians 2:5-11. In these verses Paul may be quoting an early confession of faith. If so, he endorsed it and made it his own. This passage tells how Jesus did not regard equality with God as something that He should exploit to His own advantage. Instead, He humble Himself to become a man, displaying “the form of God” in “the form of a servant.” He became “obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly regarded Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:8-11).
The “name which is above every name” is probably “Lord” in the highest sense that it can bear. The words echo Isaiah 45:23, where the God of Israel swears, “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath [or, make confession].” In the Old Testament passage the God of Israel denies to any other being the right to receive the worship that belongs to Him alone. But in the passage from Philippians He readily shares that worship with the humiliated and exalted Jesus. More than that, He shares His own name with Him. When human beings honor Jesus as Lord, God is glorified.
God - If Jesus is called “Lord” in this supreme sense, it is not surprising that He occasionally is called “God” in the New Testament. Thomas, convinced that the risen Christ stood before him, abandoned his doubts with the confession, “My Lord and my God!” (John 29:28).
But the classic text is John 1:1. John declared that the Word existed not only “in the beginning,” where He was “with God,” but actually “was God.” This is the word that became incarnate as man in Jesus Christ, without ceasing to be what He had been from eternity. The Word was God in the sense that the Father shared with Him the fullness of His own nature. The Father remained, in a technical phrase of traditional theology, “the fountain of deity.” But from that fountain the Son drew in unlimited measure.
The Bible thus presents Christ as altogether God and altogether man - the perfect mediator between God and mankind because He partakes fully of the nature of both.
The Work of Christ - The work of Christ has often been stated in relation to His threefold office as prophet, priest, and king. As prophet, He is the perfect spokesman of God to the world, fully revealing God’s character and will. As priest, Jesus has offered to God by His death a sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world. Now, on the basis of that sacrifice, He exercises a ministry of intercession on behalf of His people. As king, He is “the ruler over the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5) - the One to whose rule the whole world is subject.
The work of Jesus can be discussed in terms of past, present, and future.
The Finished Work of Christ - By the “finished” work of Christ is meant the work of atonement or redemption of the human race that He completed by His death on the cross. This work is so perfect in itself that it requires neither repetition nor addition. Because of this work, He is called “Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14) and “the Lamb f God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).
In the Bible sin is viewed in several ways: as an offense against God, which requires a pardon; as defilement, which requires cleansing; as slavery, which cries out for emancipation; as a debt, which must be canceled; as defeat, which must be reversed by victory; and as estrangement, which must be set right by reconciliation. However sin is viewed, it is through the work of Christ that the remedy is provided. He has procured the pardon, the cleansing, the emancipation, the cancellation, the victory, and the reconciliation.
When sin is viewed as an offense against God, it is also interpreted as a breach of His law. The law of God, like law in general, involves penalties against the lawbreaker. So strict are these penalties that they appear to leave no avenue of escape for the lawbreaker. The apostle Paul, conducting his argument along these lines, quoted one uncompromising declaration from the Old Testament: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them” (Deut. 27:26; Gal. 3:10).
But Paul goes on to say that Christ, by enduring the form of death on which a divine curse was expressly pronounced in the law, absorbed in His own person the curse invoked on the lawbreaker: “ “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’)” (Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13).
Since Christ partakes of the nature of both God and humanity, He occupies a unique status with regard to them. He represents God to humanity, and He also represents humanity to God. God is both Lawgiver and Judge; Christ represents Him. The human family has put itself in the position of lawbreaker; Christ has voluntarily undertaken to represent us. The Judge has made Himself one with the guilty in order to bear our guilt. It is ordinarily out of the question for one person to bear the guilt of others. But when the one person is the representative human being, Jesus Christ, bearing the guilt of those whom He represents, the case is different.
In the hour of His death, Christ offered His life to God on behalf of mankind. The perfect life that He offered was acceptable to God. The salvation secured through the giving up of that life is God’s free gift to mankind in Christ.
When the situation is viewed in the terms of a law court, one might speak of the accused party as being acquitted. But the term preferred in the New Testament, especially in the apostle Paul’s writings, is the more positive word “justified.” Paul goes on to the limit of daring in speaking of God as “Him who justifies the ungodly” (Rom. 4:5). God can be so described because “Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). Those who are united in faith to Him are “justified” in Him. As Paul explained elsewhere, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). The work of Christ, seen from this point of view, is to set humanity in a right relationship with God.
When sin is considered a defilement that requires cleansing, the most straightforward affirmation is that “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). The effect of His death is to purify a conscience that has been polluted by sin. The same thought is expressed by the writer of the Book of Hebrews. He speaks o various materials that were prescribed by Israel’s ceremonial law to deal with forms of ritual pollution, which was an external matter. Then He asks, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb. 9:14). Spiritual defilement calls for spiritual cleansing, and this is what the death of Christ has accomplished.
When sin is considered as slavery from which the slave must be set free, then the death of Christ is spoken of as a ransom or a means of redemption. Jesus Himself declared that He came “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Paul not only spoke of sin as slavery; he also personified sin as a slave-owner who compels his slaves to obey his evil orders. When they are set free from his control by the death of Christ to enter the service of God, they shall find this service, by contrast, to be perfect freedom.
The idea of sin as a debt that must be canceled is based on the teaching of Jesus. In Jesus’ parable of the creditor and the two debtors (Luke 7:40-43), the creditor forgave them both when they could make no repayment. But the debtor who owed the larger sum, and therefore had more cause to love the forgiving creditor, represented the woman whose “sins, which are many, are forgiven” (Luke 7:47). This is similar to Paul’s reference to God as “having canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands” (Col. 2:14, NRSV).
Paul’s words in Colossians 2:15 speak of the “principalities and powers” as a personification of the hostile forces in the world that have conquered men and women and held them as prisoners of war. There was no hope of successful resistance against them until Christ confronted them. It looked as though they had conquered Him too, but on the cross He conquered death itself, along with other hostile forces. In His victory all who believe in Him have a share: “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:57).
Sin is also viewed as estrangement, or alienation, from God. In this case, the saving work of Christ includes the reconciliation of sinners to God. The initiative in this reconciling work is taken by God. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). God desires the well-being of sinners; so He sends Christ as the agent of His reconciling grace to them (Col. 1:20).
Those who are separated from God by sin are also estranged from one another. Accordingly, the work of Christ that reconciles sinners to God also brings them together as human beings. Hostile divisions of humanity have peace with one another through Him. Paul celebrated the way in which the work of Christ overcame the mutual estrangement of Jews and Gentiles: “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us” (Eph. 2:14).
When the work of Christ is pictured in terms of an atoning sacrifice, it is God who takes the initiative. The word “propitiation,” used in this connection in older English versions of the Bible (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10), does not mean that sinful men and women have to do something to appease God or turn away His anger; neither does it mean that Christ died on the cross to persuade God to be merciful to sinners. It is the nature of God to be a pardoning God. He has revealed His pardoning nature above all in the person and work of Christ. This saving initiative is equally and eagerly shared by Christ: He gladly cooperates with the Father’s purpose for the redemption of the world.
The Present Work of Christ - The present work of Christ begins with His exaltation by God, after the completion of His “finished” work in His death and resurrection.
The first aspect of His present work was the sending of the Holy Spirit to dwell in His people. “If I do not go away,” He said to His disciples in the Upper Room, “the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you” (John 16:7). The fulfillment of this promise was announced by Peter on the Day of Pentecost: “Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33).
The promise of the Holy Spirit can be traced back to John the Baptist, who promised that the One who was to come after Him, mightier than himself, would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8).
But the present work of Christ that receives the main emphasis in the New Testament is His intercession. Paul, quoting what appears to be an early Christian confession of faith, spoke of “Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34). So too, the writer of the Hebrews says that “He ever lives to make intercession” for His people (Heb. 7:25). He describes in detail Jesus’ exceptional qualifications to be their high priest.
Jesus’ presence with God as His people’s representative provides the assurance that their request for spiritual help are heard and granted. To know that He is there is a powerful incentive for His followers. No good thing that Jesus seeks for them is withheld by the Father.
The exaltation of Christ is repeatedly presented in the New Testament as the fulfillment of Psalm 110:21: “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” This means that Christ reigns from His present place of exaltation and must do so until all His enemies are overthrown. Those enemies belong to the spiritual realm: “The last enemy that will be destroyed will be death” (1 Cor. 15:26). With the destruction of death, which occurred with the resurrection of Jesus, the present phase of Christ’s work gives way to His future work.
The Future Work of Christ - During His earthly ministry, Jesus declared that He had even greater works to do in the future. He specified two of these greater works: the raising of the dead and the passing of final judgment. To raise the dead and to judge the world are prerogatives of God, but He delegates these works to His Son. While the Son would discharge these two functions at the time of the end, they were not unrelated to the events of Jesus’ present ministry. Those who were spiritually dead received new life when they responded in faith to the Son of God. In effect, They were passing judgment on themselves as they accepted or rejected the life He offered.
The raising of the dead and the passing of judgment are associated with the second coming of Christ. When Paul dealt with this subject, he viewed Christ’s appearing in glory as the occasion when His people would share His glory and be displayed to the universe as the sons and daughters of God, heirs to the new order. He added that all creation looks forward to that time, because then it “will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).
Both the present work of Christ and the future work are dependent on His “finished” work. The “finished” work was the beginning of God’s “good work” in His people. This work will not be completed until “the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6), when the entire universe will be united “in Christ” (Eph. 1:10).
John’s reference to Jesus as the Lamb of God calls to mind the Old Testament sacrificial system. In the sacrifice God accepted the blood of animals as the means for atonement for sin. It is likely that John had many themes from the Old Testament in mind when he called Jesus the Lamb of God. These themes probably included the sin offering (Leviticus 4), the trespass offering (Leviticus 5), the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16), and the Passover sacrifice (Exodus 12).
But the strongest image from the Old Testament is the suffering servant who “was led as a lamb to the slaughter” (Is. 53:7) and who “bore the sins of many” (Is. 53:12). Thus, vivid description of Jesus was a pointed announcement of the Atonement He would bring about on our behalf.
See also Jesus Christ.
Light has been associated with the presence, and truth, and redemptive activity of God since creation. Before human beings were created, light was brought into being by the Creator; “Then God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good” (Gen. 1:3-4). Throughout the Bible, light represents truth, goodness, and God’s redemptive work. Darkness, on the other hand, symbolizes error, evil, and the works of Satan.
Several of the miracles recorded in the Bible are related to light and darkness: the “Pillar of Fire” that guided the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex. 3:21), the sun standing still in Gibeon at Joshua’s request (Josh. 10:12-13), and the fall of darkness at midday when Jesus was being crucified (Matt. 27:45).
Misguided fascination caused some cultures of the ancient world to worship the sun and moon. Ur in Babylonia and several of the Canaanite cities had elaborate systems of moon worship. Use of light was common in the festivals of the Greeks cults, especially those honoring Dionysus and Apollo.
God or God’s Word, the Bible, are frequently represented as lights to enlighten or guide the believer (1 John 1:15). “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps. 119:105). The Psalmist also declared, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” (Ps. 27:21). Light is also used as a symbol of holiness and purity. Paul counseled the Christians at Rome to “put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12).
The New Testament represents Jesus as the personification of light or divine illumination: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). Jesus plainly stated that those who rejected this divine light would bring judgment upon themselves (John 3:19-21). Jesus and the New Testament writers extended the figure of light to include faithful Christian witnesses, who were called “children of light” (Eph. 5:8).
The word “Messiah” comes from a Hebrew term that means “anointed one.” It’s Greek counterpart is Christos, from which the word “Christ” comes. Messiah was one of the titles used by early Christians to describe who Jesus was.
In Old Testament times, part of the ritual of commissioning a person for a special task was to anoint him with oil. The phrase “anointed” one was applied to a person in such cases. In the Old Testament, Messiah is used more than 30 times to describe kings (2 Sam. 1:14, 16), priests (Lev. 4:3, 5, 16), the patriarchs (Ps. 105:15), and even the Persian King Cyrus (Is. 45:1). The word is also used in connection with King David, who became the model of the messianic king who would come at the end of the age (2 Sam. 22:51; Ps. 2:2). But it was not until the time of Daniel (sixth century B.C.) that Messiah was used as an actual title of a king who would come in the future (Dan. 9:25-26). Still later, as the Jewish people struggled against political enemies, the Messiah came to be thought of as a political military ruler.
From the New Testament we learn more about the people’s expectations. They thought the Messiah would come soon to perform signs (John 7:31) and to deliver His people, after which He would live and rule forever (John 12:34). Some even thought that John the Baptist was the Messiah (John 1:20). Others said that the Messiah was to come from Bethlehem (John 7:42). Most expected the Messiah to be a political leader, a king who would defeat the Romans and provide for the physical needs of the Israelites.
According to the Gospel of John, a woman of Samaria said to Jesus, “I know that the Messiah is coming.” Jesus replied, “I who speak to you am He” (John 4:25-26). In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, however, Jesus never directly referred to Himself as the Messiah, except privately to His disciples, until the crucifixion (Matt. 26:63-64; Mark 14:61-62; Luke 22:67-70). He did accept the title and function of messiahship privately (Matt. 16:16-17). Yet Jesus constantly avoided being called “Messiah” in public (Mark 8:29-30). This is known as Jesus’ “messianic secret.” He was the Messiah, but He did not want it known publicly.
The reason for this was that Jesus’ kingdom was not political but spiritual (John 18:36). If Jesus had used the title “Messiah,” people would have thought He was a political king. But Jesus understood that the Messiah, God’s Anointed One, was to be the Suffering Servant (Is. 52:13 - 53:12). The fact that Jesus was a suffering Messiah - a crucified deliverer - was a “stumbling block” to many of the Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). They saw the cross as a sign of Jesus’ weakness, powerlessness, and failure. They rejected the concept of a crucified Messiah.
But the message of the early church centered around the fact that the crucified and risen Jesus is the Christ (Acts 5:42; 17:3; 18:5). They proclaimed the “scandalous” gospel of a crucified Messiah as the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:23-24). John wrote, “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ [the Messiah]?” (1 John 2:22).
By the time of the apostle Paul, “Christ” was in the process of changing from a title to a proper name. The name is found mostly in close association with the name “Jesus,” as in “Christ Jesus” (Rom. 1:1). When the church moved onto Gentile soil, the converts lacked the Jewish background for understanding the title, and it lost much of its significance. Luke wrote, “The disciples were first called Christians [those who belong to and follow the Messiah] in Antioch” (Acts 11:26).
As the Messiah, Jesus is the divinely appointed king who brought God’s kingdom to earth (Matt.12:28; Luke 11:20). His way to victory was not by physical force or violence, but through love, humility, and service.
Character and Conduct. Although the office of high priest was hereditary, its holder had to be without physical defect as well as holy in conduct (Lev. 21:6-8). He must not show grief for the dead - even his father or mother - by removing his headdress or letting his hair go unkempt. He must not tear his clothes in grief or go near a dead body. Leaving his duties go unperformed because of a death, would “profane the sanctuary” (Lev. 21:12). He could marry only a “virgin of his own people” (Lev. 21:14), or a believer in God. She could not be a widow, a divorced woman, or an impure woman. He must not, by a bad marriage, spoil his own holiness or endanger the holiness of his son who would succeed him.
Consecration. A high priest was consecrated (installed in office) by an elaborate seven-day service at the tabernacle or Temple (Exodus 29; Leviticus 8). He was cleansed by bathing, then dressed in the garments and symbols he must wear in his ministry and anointed with special oil. Sacrifices of sin offering, burnt offering, and consecration offering were made for him, and he was anointed again with oil and blood of the sacrifice. Thus, “sanctified” to serve as a priest and “consecrated” to offer sacrifice (Ex. 28:41; 29:9), he became “the saint [holy one] of the Lord” (Ps. 106:16).
Clothing. The high priest’s special garments represented his function as mediator between God and people. Over the trousers, coat, girdle, and cap, worn by all the priests, the high priest wore an Ephod, a two piece apron reaching to his hips, made of royal colors (blue, purple, and scarlet), and sewed with gold thread. By two onyx stones bearing the names of the twelve tribes of Israel fastened to the shoulder of the ephod, he brought the whole nation before God in all his priestly acts (Ex. 28:5-14).
The “breastplate of judgment,” made of the same material, was attached to the front of the ephod (Ex. 28:15-30). On its front were three precious stones engraved with the names of the twelve tribes. In its pocket, directly over his heart were the Urim and Thummim (Ex. 28:30), the medium through which God could communicate his will. By this the high priest was Israel’s advocate before God and God’s spokesman to them.
Over the breastplate he wore the blue “robe of the ephod (Ex. 28:31). Around its hem were pomegranates, pointing to the divine law as sweet and delicious spiritual food (Deut. 8:3), and bells that would ring as he went “into the holy place before the Lord . . . that he may not die” (Ex. 28:35).
On his forehead the high priest wore “the holy crown” of gold engraved with the words, “Holiness of the LORD” (Ex. 28:36-37). Thus he was represented as bearing “the iniquity of the holy things” (Ex. 28:38) which Israel offered to God and crowned mediator, making atonement for the nation so God might accept their gifts and show them favor.
All these garments stood for the “glory and beauty” (Ex. 28:40) God place upon His priests sanctifying them to minister in His name (Ex. 28:3).
Particular Services. The high priest held a leadership position in seeing that all responsibilities of the priests were carried out, “Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the Lord” (2 Chr. 19:11). He could participate in the priestly ministry, but certain functions were given only to him. As he alone wore the Urim and the Thummim, Israel came to him to know the will of God (Deut. 33:8). For this reason Joshua was to “ask counsel” of Eleazar regarding the movements of the army in the conquest of the land of Canaan (Num. 27:21). Even John recognized prophecy as a gift belonging to the high priest (John 11:49-52). The high priest had to offer a sin offering for his own sins and the sin of the whole congregation (Lev. 4:3-21). At the death of the high priest freedom was granted to all who were confined to the Cities of Refuge for accidentally causing the death of another person (Num. 35:28).
The most important responsibility of the high priest was to conduct the service on the Day of Atonement, the tenth day of the seventh month each year. On this day he alone entered the Holy Place behind the veil of God. Having made sacrifice for himself and for the people, he brought the blood into the Holy of Holies and sprinkled it on the mercy seat, God’s “throne.” This he did to make atonement for himself and the people for all their sins committed during the year just ended (Ex. 30:10; Leviticus 16). It is with this particular service that the ministry of Jesus as high priest is compared (Heb .9:1-28).
Historical Development. Eleazar succeeded Aaron (Num. 20:28) and and served at Shiloh where the tabernacle was erected after the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites (Josh. 18:1). He was followed by his son Phinehas (Num. 25:11-12; Josh. 24:33). Eli, a descendant of Ithamar, the younger brother of Eleazar, held the office by the Lord’s choice (1 Sam. 2:28) at the end of the period of the judges, the change being unexplained.
Because of the sins of Eli’s sons, Samuel appears to have succeeded Eli (1 Sam. 2:12-36; 7:5, 9-10, 17), although he is not called a high priest, and did not regularly function at the tabernacle. Eli’s sons cared for the tabernacle at Nob after the destruction of Shiloh (1 Samuel 21 - 22). Abiathar, a descendant of Eli, escaped Saul’s slaughter of the priests at Nob (1 Sam. 22:19-21) taking the ephod with him and serving with David (1 Sam. 23:9; 30:7).
David appointed Zadok, a descendant of Eleazar, to serve at the tabernacle at Gibeon (1 Chr. 16:39) at the same time that he took the ark to Jerusalem. Zadok and Abimelech, the son of Abiathar, are listed as priests among David’s officers. Zadok crowned Solomon (1 Kin. 1:39) and was appointed by him as high priest in the place of Abiathar when the latter was banished for supporting Adonijah’s claim to the throne (1 Kin. 2:26-27, 35). This made him the high priest to minister in the Temple. His line of high priests served there until the Babylonian Captivity (1 Chr. 6:3-15).
Mutual support and encouragement characterized the Davidic kings and high priests. David organized 24 divisions of priests to serve by turn at the Temple, supervised by both Zadok and Abiathar (1 Chr. 24:6, 31). Solomon confirmed the appointments of his father (2 Chr. 8:14-15). Jehoshaphat organized priests, Levites, and chief men of Israel under the leadership of the high priest to go through the land teaching the people the law, encouraging them to faithful, reverent service (2 Chronicles 19). The high priest Jehoida protected Joash from Athaliah’s murder of the king’s sons and organized his coronation and the destruction of Athaliah (2 Chr. 22:10 - 23:21).
Kings Hezekiah and Josiah assisted the high priests in reform and restoration of the Temple and its worship after its destruction by Ahaz and Manasseh (2 Chronicles 30 - 31, 34 - 35). Ezekiel announced that the sons of Zodak would be priests in the new Temple (Ezek. 44:15-16) because they had not rejected God when Israel went astray (1 Kin. 12:31; 2 Chr. 11:13-15; 13:9).
After the Captivity, Joshua the high priest, of the sons of Zodak (Hag. 1:1), and Zerubbabel of the house of David - the governor appointed by Cyrus - led the rebuilding of the Temple . As no further governors were appointed, the high priest became the sole political and religious leader. Great care was taken by Ezra and Nehemiah to restore the Mosaic order of purity, but interference by unprincipled civil rulers took a sad toll on the purity and influence of the high priest. The Syrian, Antiochus IV, removed the Zodakite high priest and replaced him with a man from a nonpriestly family.
In the revolt that followed and the consequent independence, the Hasmoneans, a family of ordinary priests, took political control. In 152 B.C. one of them, Jonathan, assumed the high priests office, and later the royal title. When Herod came to power under Rome in 37 B.C. he arbitrarily deposed and appointed high priests as he pleased, and did away with anointing them.
During this period until the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70, five prominent families of high priests held power. Annas was the leader of one of these. His son-in-law Caiaphas, five of his sons, and a grandson held the office. Although Annas had been replaced by Caiaphas before the time of Jesus’ ministry, his influence continued (Luke 3:2; John 18:13, 24).
New Testament Times. In the New Testament as in the Old, the “high priest was appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices” (Neh. 8:3), and was referred to as “God’s high priest” and “ruler of [the] people” (Acts 23:4-5). He was the president of the Sanhedrin, the highest ruling body of the Jews (Matt. 26:3). But the office ceased to be hereditary, and it was subject to the whim of the political power, Rome. The high priests’ religious influence was weakened by the rising power of the Scribes and Pharisees, and they became known for their materialism and thirst for power.
Above all, the high priest and his fellow priests were threatened by the presence of Jesus in His Father’s house, for they had changed it from a “house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17) to a place of merchandise, a “den of thieves” (Matt. 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-48; John 2:14-16).
The “chief priests” were the holders of the priestly office of higher rank in the Temple and, along with the high priest, were leaders of the Sanhedrin. That they had administrative authority in the Temple is indicated by their agreement with Judas concerning his betrayal of Jesus (Matt. 27:6; Luke 22:4-5). The chief priests led the opposition to Jesus at His trial (Mark 15:3, 11; Luke 23:23). They were equally prominent in their opposition to the apostles and the Christian church (Acts 4:6; 9:14, 21).
Along with the council, the high priest and chief priests condemned Jesus to death (Matt. 26:65-66), mocked Him as He was dying. (v.41), and sealed His grave (Matt. 26 - 27).
Jesus as High Priest. The New Testament’s most important references to the high priest are found in the Epistles to the Hebrews, referring to Jesus. Qualifying Himself to be a merciful and faithful high priest by becoming a man of the seed of Abraham (Heb. 2:11-18), He is sympathetic to our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15). He did not assume the office of high priest for glory (Heb. 5:5), but was called by God to the office, and not of the order of Aaron, but of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:10). He had no need, as the sons of Aaron, to offer sacrifice for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people; for He had no sin (Heb. 27-28). They offered animal blood that could never take sin away (Heb. 10:1-4). But He offered His own blood (Heb. 9:12) once for all (Heb. 9:26; 10:10, 12). They were many priests, because they died (Heb. 7:23); His was an eternal priesthood because He lives forever (Heb. 7:25). Their priesthood was performed in an earthly model of the real sanctuary (Heb. 8:5); He performs His ministry in heaven itself (Heb. 4:14; 9:11), seated at the right hand of God (Heb. 10:12). By His one offering He has achieved His goal - the sanctification of His people. We may therefore come directly into the presence of God through the “one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
In the New Testament, Jesus is called the Prince (Author, NIV) of life (Acts 3:15) and a Prince (Author, NRSV) and Savior (Acts 5:31).
Boaz’s function as redeemer for Ruth (Ruth 3: 14 - 4:10) is well known, as is Job’s resurrection hope in God, his Redeemer (Job 19:25). God Himself is the Redeemer of Israel, a fact mentioned 18 times - especially by the prophet Isaiah (Ps. 78:35; Is. 41:14).
In the New Testament, Christ is viewed as a ultimate Redeemer. Jesus gave His life as a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Thus, the apostle Paul speaks of believers as having “redemption through His blood” (Eph. 1:7).
In the New Testament the word for “savior” describes both God the Father (1 Tim. 1:1; Jude 25) and Jesus Christ the Son (Acts 5:31; Phil. 3:20). The apostles rejoiced that in Christ, God had become the “Savior of all men” (1 Tim. 4:10). He was the Savior of Gentiles as well as Jews. As Christians, we are exhorted to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). (Also see Jesus Christ.)
God revealed Himself as one to the Israelites: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Deut. 6:4). This was a significant religious truth because the surrounding nations worshipped many gods and had fallen into idolatry, worshipping the creation rather than the true Creator (Rom. 1:18-25). “But when the fulness of the time had come,” Paul wrote (Gal. 4:4), “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law.” In the New Testament, God revealed that He was not only one but a family of persons - an eternal, inexhaustible, and dynamic triune family of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are one in will and purpose, love, and righteousness.
The relationship of the Father and Son is prominent in the Gospels because Jesus, the eternal Son who takes on human flesh, is most visible to us as He strikes a responsive chord through the Father-Son relationship. All the while the Holy Spirit is in the background, serving as our eyes of faith. The unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is portrayed by Jesus’ trinitarian teaching (John 14 - 16). This truth is expressed in the total ministry of Jesus as recorded in all four gospels as well as in the rest of the New Testament. The triune family cooperates as one in bringing the lost person home again into a redeemed family of believers.
The most distinctive characteristic of the persons of the triune family is their selfless love for one another. Each esteems and defers to the other in a way that makes the original family of the trinity a model for the Christian family of believers in the church.
The Father gives all authority to the Son and bears witness to Him, as does Jesus to Himself (John 8:18). Yet the Son claims nothing for Himself; He gives all the glory to the Father who has sent Him (John 12:49-50). The key to understanding the mystery of the trinity is to observe how the persons of the triune family give themselves to one another in selfless love. They are always at one another’s disposal.
The Father serves the Son; the Son serves the Father; Father and Son defer to the Holy Spirit, who in turn serves and defers to the Father and Son in a oneness that is eternally dynamic and inexhaustible. The mutual love of the triune persons spills over into the creation and is seen in their generous cooperation in saving the lost (John 14:15-17, 25-26).
Since God is the original family-in-unity, so Christians are urged by Jesus and the apostles to imitate the divine family in the believing fellowship, as Jesus taught so clearly when He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:14-15). The principle trait of the triune family is speaking the truth in love; this encourages the spirit of generosity among Christians as they reflect the divine family in calling the lost to come home.
The Trinity was at work in the incarnation of Jesus, the Son of the Most High, as He was conceived in the womb of Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:30-35). At His baptism Jesus the Son received approval from the Father in the presence of the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:21-22), fulfilling two Old Testament prophetic passages (Ps. 2:7; Is. 42:1). The Trinity was also present in the temptation of Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit for 40 days in the wilderness. The devil recognized Jesus as the Son of God (Luke 4:43), but he tried to destroy the faithful relationship of the divine family.
In His preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth Jesus fulfilled Isaiah 61:1-2, claiming that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me” (Luke 4:18) and indicating that the triune family was at work in Him as the servant Son. At the transfiguration, the voice of the Father spoke again in approval of Jesus the Son to the innermost circle of Disciples (Luke 9:35).
Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and in the Father who had delivered all things to the Son (Luke 10:21-22). He claimed to be acting in the place of God and through the Holy Spirit’s power, which is the “finger” of God (Matt. 12:28; Luke 11:20). Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple was a claim of identification with the house of God His Father (Luke 19:45-46) that parallel His concern for being in His Father’s house at a much younger age (Luke 2:41-51).
Jesus witnessed further to His authority as He sent forth the disciples, following His resurrection, with the words, “Behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you” (Luke 24:49). He also told them to wait until they were empowered by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5, 8). Jesus claimed His Sonship not only from David but from David’s Lord (Matt. 22:42-45), indicating His deity.
Following His resurrection, Jesus sent the disciples to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). The fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy as spokesman for the Father and the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-8) occurred at Pentecost. This continued throughout the Book of Acts when the Holy Spirit inspired Peter and the apostles to preach a trinitarian gospel of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Acts 2:32-33; 5:29-32; 10:38).
Paul wrote from a sense of the triune family in Galatians, speaking often of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:13-14; 4:6; 5:5-6, 22-24). In Romans he used a threefold, trinitarian pattern to describe the plan of salvation (Rom. 1:18 - 3:20; 3:21 - 8:1; 8:2-30). All the remaining New Testament books contain Trinity teaching except James and 3 John.
The triune family is God’s revelation of Himself as the ultimate truth about reality. The family is the original pattern from which God creates all the families of the earth with their unity and diversity. The family of mankind, after losing its intimate relationship with the divine family at the Fall, is restored to fellowship by God’s action. This happens when its members acknowledge the generosity originating in the Father, expressed by the Son, and energized by the Holy Spirit.
In the Old and New Testaments, truth is a fundamental moral and personal quality of God. God proclaimed that He is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth” (Ex. 34:6). He is a “God of truth . . . without injustice” (Deut. 32:4). Furthermore, all of His paths are “mercy and truth” (Ps. 25:10). Frequently in the Psalms, God’s mercy and His truth are joined together (Ps. 57:3; 89:14; 115:1). All of God’s works, precepts, and judgments are done in righteousness and truth (Ps. 96:13; 111:8).
Truth is a moral and personal characteristic of God: He is “the God of truth” (Is. 65:16). The psalmist declared, “Your law is truth” (119:142). “all Your commandments are truth” (119:151), and “the entirety of Your word is truth” (119:160). Because of His perfect nature and will, God has to speak and act in truth; He cannot lie (1 Sam. 15:29; Heb. 6:18; James 1:17-18).
Jesus is the Word of God who became flesh, The only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). All Jesus said was true, because He told the truth He heard from God (John 8:40). He promised His disciples that He would send “The Spirit of Truth” (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13) - a Helper who would abide in Christians forever (John 14:16), testifying about Jesus (John 15:26), guide all Christians into al truth (John 16:13), and glorify Jesus (John 16:14).
God is truth; the Spirit is truth; and Jesus is truth. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus and the revelation the Spirit of truth gave through His apostles are the final, ultimate revelation and definition of truth about God, people, redemption, history, and the world. “The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).