Saturday, September 3, 2011

Bible difficulties Answered (Part 14)

By: Jay Smith, Alex Chowdhry, Toby Jepson, James Schaeffer

"The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him." (Proverbs 18:17)

43. John the Baptist did (John 1:32-33) or did not (Matthew 11:2) recognize Jesus after his baptism?

(Category: misread the text)

In the passage of John 1:29-36 it is abundantly clear that John recognised Jesus. We should have no doubt at all about this.

Matthew 11:2 takes place later on, and many things have happened in the interum. John's original knowledge of Jesus was limited and it seems that subsequent events had disillusioned him somewhat. He did not know exactly what form Jesus' ministry would take. We are told from Matthew 3:11,12 some of what John knew: "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire." This is the classic portrayal of the Messiah as the conquering king who would bring God's judgement on all those who reject him, bringing peace and justice to those who follow him. John obviously understood this.

However, the Messiah was also portrayed in the scriptures as a suffering servant who would suffer on behalf of God's people. This is shown clearly in Isaiah 53, especially verse 12: "For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors". John also understood this, as shown by his statement in John 1:29: "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"

What was sometimes not so well understood was how the two portrayals of the Messiah interacted. Many thought that the Messiah would bring his terrible judgement as soon as he came. In fact, this will occur when he returns again (his return is alluded to in Acts 1:11, for example). Some were confused, therefore, by Jesus' reluctance to act as a military leader and release the nation of Israel from Roman oppression at that time.

This confusion is illustrated by Luke 24:13-33, where Jesus spoke with two of his followers on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. They were initially kept from recognising him (v.16). They told him how they "had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel" (v.21). They were correct in this hope, but failed to understand the first stage in God's redemptive process. Jesus corrected their misunderstanding in v. 25,26: "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" (emphasis added)

It is most likely that a similar misunderstanding prompted John's question in Matthew 11:2. Despite having been so sure of Jesus' identity as the Messiah of Israel, further events had clouded his certainty. After expecting Jesus to oust the Romans and restore the kingdom of Israel as in the days of king David, instead he had seen Jesus 'teach and preach in the towns of Galilee' (Matthew 11:1), with no mention of a military campaign. John surely wondered what had gone wrong: had he misunderstood the Messiah's role, or perhaps he had made a bigger mistake in thinking Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus' answer in Matthew 11:4-6 makes it clear:

"Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."

These activities were Messianic prerogatives, as foretold by Isaiah 29:18; 35:5,6; 61:1-3. Although John's disillusionment was a natural human reaction, he had been right the first time. Jesus ended his reply with an exhortation to John not to give up hope. The Messiah was here without a doubt and all would be revealed in its proper time.

44. When Jesus bears witness to himself, is his testimony not true (John 5:31) or is his testimony true (John 8:14)?

(Category: misunderstood the historical context)

"If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid" (John 5:31) compared with "Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid" (John 8:14). It appears to be a contradiction, but only if the context is ignored.

In John 5 Jesus is speaking about how he cannot claim on his own to be the Messiah nor the Son of God, unless he is in line with God's revealed word. That is, without fulfilling the prophecies spoken in the Old Testament. But as Jesus did fulfil them and was proclaimed to be the Messiah by John the Baptist who the prophets also spoke of as heralding the way for the Messiah (see #34), then Jesus was indeed who he claimed to be, the Son of God. Jesus says of the Jewish scriptures which his listeners studied diligently, "These are the Scriptures that testify about me".

We read of a somewhat different setting however in John 8. Jesus has just once again claimed to be the Messiah by quoting Old Testament Messianic prophecies and applying them to himself (John 8:12, Isaiah 9:2, Malachi 4:2). "Then some Pharisees challenged him, 'Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid'." Verse 13.

It is to this statement that Jesus responds "Yes it is". Why? Because the Pharisees were using a law from Deuteronomy 19:15 which says "One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If a malicious witness takes the stand."

Therefore they broadened the law to mean more that it does actually say. Indeed, the testimony of one man was valid - however not enough to convict, but enough when used in defense to bring an acquittal. This law is not speaking about anyone making a claim about himself, only in a court when accused of a crime.

So when Jesus says in reply to them "Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid" he is right to do so as what the law referred to did not directly apply. He also says that he knew exactly who he was, whereas they did not. He was not lying to them; he was the sinless Messiah of God. Therefore his word could be trusted.

However, it is a good principle not to believe just anyone who claims to be the Messiah. Any claimant must have proof. Therefore the second thing Jesus goes on to state in John 8 is that he has these witnesses too, the witnesses that the Pharisees were asking for. "I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father who sent me." Verse 18. The same proclamation as in John 5 that he was fulfilling the prophecies that they knew (see just before this incident in John 7:42 for further proof of this point).

There is no contradiction, simply clarity and great depth which can be seen when Jesus' is viewed in context, in his fertile Jewish culture and setting.

45. When Jesus entered Jerusalem he cleansed (Matthew 21:12) or did not cleanse (Mark 11:1-17) the temple that same day, but the next day?

(Category: misunderstood the author's intent)

The key to understanding may be found in Matthew's use of narrative. At times he can be seen to arrange his material in topical order rather than strict chronological sequence. See the next question (#46) for more details.

With this in mind, it is probable that Matthew relates the cleansing of the temple along with the triumphal entry, even though the cleansing occurred the next day. Verse 12 states that 'Jesus entered the temple' but does not say clearly that it was immediately following the entry into Jerusalem.. Verse 17 informs us that he left Jerusalem and went to Bethany, where he spent the night. Mark 11:11 also has him going out to Bethany for the night, but this is something that he did each night of that week in Jerusalem.

Matthew 21:23 states: "Jesus entered the temple courts" in a similar fashion to verse 12, yet Luke 20:1 says that the following incident occurred "one day", indicating that it may not have been immediately after the fig tree incident.

According to this possible interpretation, Jesus entered the temple on the day of his triumphal entry, looked around and retired to Bethany. The next morning he cursed the fig tree on the way to Jerusalem (at which time it started to wither) and cleansed the temple when he got there. Returning to Bethany that evening, probably as it was getting dark, the withered fig tree may not have been noticed by the disciples. It was only the following morning in the full light of day that they saw what had happened to it.

(Archer 1994:334.335)


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