[originally written in December 1992]
Another Christmas season is here. Why December 25, since it's unlikely that Jesus was born at this time of year? The Roman Church simply took the Saturnalia, a licentious celebration of the winter solstice dedicated to Saturn, and Christianized it in order to convert pagan Rome. The actual effect was to paganize official Christianity. For example, statues of Isis and Horus were renamed Mary and Jesus so that pagans could continue their idolatry under Christian names. Pagan customs involving vestments, candles, incense, images and processions were incorporated into Church worship and continue today. No authentic history denies these facts.
Would the world, then, be better off without Christmas? Atheists think so and wish to remove all manger scenes and crosses from public places. Rather than joining the enemies of God in denouncing Christmas, however, might we not better cultivate the bits of truth that shine through the lamentable commercialization and paganism? This is a unique time of year for presenting the gospel to the world, so let us take advantage of the opportunity.
Christ's birth and the details of His life, death, and resurrection were foretold centuries before by the Hebrew prophets. No such prophecies preceded the births of Buddha, Confucius, Muhammad, et al. Biblical prophecy fulfilled is the most powerful persuader we have. Paul used it in converting the lost and turned the world of his day upside down. So should we.
In Romans:1:1-4 we see Paul's approach. He refers to "the gospel of God, (which he [God] had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures)." Christianity is not a first-century invention. It is, in fact, the fulfillment of that which, with one voice, the Hebrew prophets consistently foretold for centuries.
There are more than 300 Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Why? So Israel could identify Him, when in the fullness of time God would send forth his Son (Gal:4:4). The third chapter in the Bible contains the first prophecy of the Messiah's coming, His virgin birth ("the seed of the woman") and His destruction of Satan (Gn 3:15). The prophets declared that He must be of the "lineage of David" (2 Sm 7:10-16; Ps:89:3-4; Jer:23:5) and rule upon David's throne. To prove that Jesus met this criteria, Matthew and Luke begin with the genealogy of Joseph and Mary.
Having rejected Jesus, the Jews still hope for their Messiah to come--but they hope in vain. Jesus Christ fulfilled Malachi:3:1 ("the Lord [Messiah], whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple") when He cast out the money changers and merchants (Mk 11:15). The destruction of the temple 38 years later in A.D. 70 made it impossible during the last 1,923 years for any would-be Messiah to fulfill that scripture. Moreover, all genealogic records were lost in the destruction of the temple, so a future "Messiah" would not be able to prove the necessary descent from David.
Yes, the temple will soon be rebuilt. Instead of cleansing it, however, as Christ did, Antichrist will defile it with his image and force the world to worship him as God: "he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (2 Thes:2:4).
Jacob prophesied, "The sceptre shall not depart from Judah...until Shiloh [Messiah] come..." (Gn 49:10). Shortly after the birth of Jesus, about A.D. 7, the sceptre departed when the Jews lost the right to enforce the death penalty. Thereafter, it was forever too late for Messiah to come. By God's grace, however, He had already come; and He will come again to rescue at Armageddon those who rejected Him the first time. They will know Him by the marks of Calvary ("they shall look upon me whom they have pierced"; Zec:12:10). The sceptre having departed from Judah, Christ, instead of being stoned by the Jews, was executed by the Romans, whose supreme penalty was crucifixion. Thus was fulfilled yet another prophecy: "...they pierced my hands and my feet" (Ps:22:16)!
But back to the cradle. Caesar Augustus had no inkling of the momentous effect of his decree "that all the world should [return to the city of one's birth to] be taxed" (Lk 2:1). That decree brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem in time for the birth of her " firstborn son" (so she had other children) in fulfillment of Micah:5:2: "But thou, Bethlehem...out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel...."
What depth of meaning there is in the simple statement, "when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son" (Gal:4:4)! His birth had to occur before the sceptre departed from Judah; His death, after. His birthplace was determined by a Roman decree; His death and its method of execution, by the Roman occupation of Israel. He had to come before the temple was destroyed and with it the genealogic records.
The "fulness of time" has passed. No one else can meet the Messianic criteria laid down by the Hebrew prophets! That simple phrase, however, carries a much deeper meaning than we have seen above. If the timing of His birth causes us to marvel, the timing of Christ's death is even more precise and full of meaning. Daniel prophesied the very day of His death.
Through the writings of Jeremiah, Daniel learned that the Babylonian captivity would last 70 years (Dn 9:2). God had commanded that each seven years the Hebrew slaves should be set free, debtors forgiven and the land given a one-year sabbath of rest (Ex 21:2; Lv 25:2-4; Dt 15:1,2,12). For 490 years Israel had disobeyed this precept. As judgment, Jews became slaves of Babylon while their land rested the 70 years of sabbaths it had been denied.
While confessing this sin, pondering and praying, Daniel was given the revelation that another period of 490 years (70 weeks of years) lay ahead for his people and for Jerusalem (9:24). At the end of that time all of Israel's sins would be purged, all prophecy fulfilled and ended, and the Messiah would be reigning on David's throne in Jerusalem. These 70 weeks of years (490 years) were to be counted "from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem" (v 25). That crucial date is given to us in Scripture.
Nehemiah tells us that it was "in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king" (2:1) that he received the authorization to rebuild Jerusalem. When the day of the month was not given, the first day was intended. There were several Artaxerxes, but only one, Longimanus, who ruled more than 20 years-from 465-425 B.C. Thus we have the key date from which this incredible prophecy was to be calculated: Nisan 1, 445 B.C.
At the end of 69 of these "weeks" (7x69 = 483 years) "Messiah the Prince" would be made known to Israel (Dn 9:25) and then "be cut off [slain], but not for himself" (v. 26). Counting 483 years of 360 days each (the Hebrew and Babylonian calendar), a total of 173,880 days from Nisan 1, 445 B.C., brings us to Sunday, April 6, A.D. 32. On that very day , now celebrated as Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey and was hailed as Messiah the Prince! (Zechariah:9:9 was fulfilled at the same time.)
There is, however, an even deeper meaning to the phrase, "In the fulness of time...." April 6, A.D. 32 was, on the Hebrew calendar, Nisan 10. On that day the passover lamb was taken from the flock and placed under observation for four days to make certain that it was "without blemish." During the same four days, Christ, whom John the Baptist had hailed as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (Jn:1:29), was likewise on display before Israel. On the fourteenth of Nisan, "the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it [the passover lamb] in the evening [between 3:00 and 6:00 P.M.]" (Ex 12:6). It was during that precise time period that Jesus died on the cross!
It is fascinating to see how God uses man's decrees and even man's connivings against Him to fulfill His Word. The rabbis had determined not to arrest Jesus during Passover, "lest there be an uproar of the people" (Mk 14:2). Yet that was when He had to die. Judas was not only Satan's pawn, but God's. Even the "thirty pieces of silver" he so shrewdly bargained for fulfilled prophecy (Zec:11:12-13). As Peter would declare in his Pentecost sermon, "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God , ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts:2:23). Paul wrote, "Christ our passover [lamb] is sacrificed for us" (1 Cor:5:7).
The fourteenth of Nisan began, as Jewish days did, at sunset Wednesday evening. That night Jesus and His disciples had the "last supper" in the upper room where they were preparing to eat the passover the following night. At this meal "before the feast of the passover" (Jn:13:1), Jesus told His disciples, "One of you shall betray me" (Jn:13:21). Earlier He said, significantly, "I tell you before...that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he" (Jn:13:1). The word "he" is in italics and does not appear in the original. Jesus was declaring once again to His disciples that He was Yahweh, the I AM of Israel, who tells beforehand what will happen and makes certain that it comes to pass (Is 46:9-10).
Arrested by the Judas-led troop in the Garden later that night, Christ was taken secretly to the palace of Caiaphas, the high priest. A sham trial before the Sanhedrin, with hastily called false witnesses, convened sometime after midnight, condemned Christ to death as dawn broke. Shortly thereafter, Pilate, the Roman governor, was notified of the emergency. Hurriedly taken down side streets, the prisoner was received into the citadel at "the third hour" (Mk 15:25), about 9:00 A.M., Nisan 14. All over Israel preparations were underway to kill the passover lamb, which was to be eaten that night.
Jerusalem was crowded and in a state of great excitement. Valuing public relations, Pilate consulted his ever-volatile citizens and let them decide the prisoner's fate. Incited by the rabbis, the bloodthirsty rabble suddenly turned against the One who had miraculously healed and fed so many of them. "Crucify him, crucify him" (Lk 23:21). "His blood be on us, and on our children" (Mt 27:25). The horrible chant echoed down Jerusalem's narrow streets.
Shortly before noon, the soldiers had finished their vicious, depraved sport. Jesus, scourged almost into unconsciousness and beaten about the face until He was nearly unrecognizable, was led through the frenzied, screaming mob out of the city to "the place of the skull." By high noon, the One whom Jerusalem, in fulfillment of prophecy, had the previous Sunday hailed as its long-awaited Messiah, was hanging naked, in shame and agony, on the center cross between two thieves. Man had crucified his Creator! Angels recoiled in horror and the sun hid its face.
The next three hours of that Thursday afternoon the earth was darkened mysteriously (Mt 27:45) as God "laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Is 53:6). Thursday? Not "Good Friday"? Indeed not. Jesus himself had said, "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth [i.e., in that part of Hades known as 'Abraham's bosom']" (Mt 12:40; Lk 16:22). The gospel includes the declaration that Christ "rose again the third day" (1 Cor:15:4).
Obviously, had Christ been crucified on Friday, He couldn't possibly have spent three days and three nights in the grave by Sunday morning. We are distinctly told that the angel rolled away the stone "as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week" (Mt 28:1). The tomb was already empty at that point, so Christ must have risen from the dead sometime prior to dawn.
Yet the myth of a "Good Friday" crucifixion persists, with much ritual and dogma built upon that obvious mistake. In this fact alone we have sufficient evidence of Rome's manufacture and endorsement of untruth to cast doubt upon everything else it affirms with equal dogmatism. And what can be said for the Protestants who, by the millions, so willingly go along with this error?
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday--does it really matter? Yes! The day of our Lord's crucifixion is of the utmost importance. If Christ was not three days and three nights in the grave, then He lied. Moreover, His death, to fulfill prophecy, had to occur at the very time the passover lambs were being slain throughout Israel. It is an astronomical fact that Nisan 14, A.D. 32, fell on Thursday.
"And it was the preparation of the passover....The Jews therefore...that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day...besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away" (Jn:19:14,31). Wait! Not a bone of the passover lamb (Ex 12:46) or of the Messiah (Ps:34:20) could be broken. Not knowing why he did it, "one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side" (Jn:19:34), fulfilling yet another scripture: "they shall look upon me whom they have pierced" (Zec:12:10).
John explains that the "sabbath" which began at sunset the Thursday Christ was crucified "was an high day." It was, in fact, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, of which the first and last days were special sabbaths during which no work was to be done. That "high" sabbath ended Friday at sunset and was immediately followed by the weekly sabbath, which ended at sunset on Saturday. Thus two sabbaths followed Christ's death, preventing the women from coming to the grave until the third day, Sunday morning.
The rabbis thought that having Jesus crucified proved He was not the Messiah. In fact, it was one more proof that He was! In taking His clothes for a souvenir, in gambling for his robe and giving Him vinegar mixed with gall to drink, the soldiers unwittingly added to that proof the fulfillment of yet more prophecies (Ps:22:18; 69:21). The nails driven into His hands and feet by Roman soldiers and the spear that pierced His side drew forth the blood of our redemption--all in fulfillment of prophecy!
It is impossible to remain an honest skeptic after comparing what the prophets said with the historical record of Jesus Christ, from the cradle to the Cross. Proof of the Resurrection, which we must leave for another time, is even more powerful! We have solid reasons for our faith in Christ. Knowing the facts increases our joy and gives us courage to present the gospel with boldness and conviction. TBC