LIFE OF CHRIST - The Historical and Cultural Context
Session 2

In our first look at the Gospels we laid some important foundations. We learned that the Gospels are the only source of detailed information about the life of Jesus of Nazareth. A handful of other non-biblical historical references offer important points of corroboration, but virtually everything of substance that we know about Jesus comes, either directly or indirectly, from those who walked with Him daily and wrote about it.
As historical information, the testimony of the gospel witnesses is of the highest caliber. The life of Jesus as reflected in the Gospels is the most detailed and historically sound of any life of antiquity. The texts have excellent attestation from internal evidence, ancient manuscripts, and archaeological finds. Therefore, they should be read as history using the normal conventions of language, with alertness and sensitivity to the cultural context, to "interpret" the meaning of the author.

I. Introduction
In the Bible God gives us true truth, but not exhaustive truth. There are many questions we may have about things that happened in the past that God doesn't answer. Instead, God has emphasized the important things, those things we need to know to understand His working in history and to lead a life that is pleasing to Him (2 Timothy 3:16). Our account of Jesus does not start with the Gospels, but thousands of years before.17

II. Old Testament prophecies of Messiah.18
    A. A man
        1. Seed of woman
            a. Genesis 3:15 "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel."19
            b. Gal 4:4 "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law."20
        2. A descendant of Abraham (a Jew).
            a. Genesis 12:321 "In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."22
            b. Gal 3:14 "In Jesus the Messiah the blessing of Abraham might come to the gentiles so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith."23
        3. A descendant of David
            a. II Samuel 7:12-16 "I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish His kingdom. ..And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever, your throne shall be established forever."24
            b. Matt 1:1 "Jesus the Messiah, the son of David..."25
        4. Born of a virgin
            a. Isaiah 7:14 "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign; behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son."26
            b. Matt 1:18,24,25 "She was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph...kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. "27
        5. Born in Bethlehem
            a. Micah 5:2 "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah...from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler of Israel.28
            b. Matt 2:1 "Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea."
        6. 483 years after the rebuilding of the Jeruslaem29
            a. Daniel 9:25 "So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks [lit. 'sevens'] and sixty-two weeks."
            b. Luke 19:41,42,44 "If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been bidden from your eyes...because you did not recognize the time of your visitation."
        7. Brutally executed by crucifixion
            a. Ps 22 This entire Psalm reads like a detailed depiction of death on the cross long before such executions were practiced.30 Derek Kidner says, "No Christian can read this without being vividly confronted with the crucifixion" (p. 105).31
            b. Matt 27, John 20, Lk 23.
        8. A servant who would suffer for the sins of Israel
            a. Isaiah 53 This long passage is worthy of being read completely. It contains many prophesies that were fulfilled on the day of Jesus' death.
            b. e.g. Matt 27:26, 38.
        9. Be raised from the dead
            a. Psalms 16:9b-10 "My flesh also will dwell securely. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; neither will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay."
            b. Acts 1:3 "To these [apostles] He presented Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of 40 days.. "32
    B. The Old Testament taught that God Himself would come to the earth.
        1. One born in Bethlehem will have had eternal existence: "His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity." (Micah 5:2)
        2. A child would be called God:
            a. "...you shall call His name Immanuel" (lit. "God with us" Is 7:14).
            b. Is 9:6 "He shall be called..."
        1. "Mighty God" (El Gibor).33
        2. "Eternal Father."
            c. "Behold the days are coming," declares the Lord, "when I shall raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land...And this is His name by which He will be called, 'The Lord our righteousness"'34 (Jer 23:5-6).
        3. A messenger would declare that God is coming to the earth:
            a. "Behold I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me" (Mal 3:1).
            b. "A voice is calling, 'Clear the way for the Lord in the wilderness; make smooth in the desert a highway for our God Let every valley be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low"' (Is 40:3-5).
        1. John the Baptist identifies himself as the voice in Isaiah 40:3-5 (Lk 3:4-6).
        2. John the Baptist came to bear witness to Jesus.
            aa. 'This is He on behalf of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me."' (Jn 1:30)
            bb. "I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God." (Jn 1:34)

    C. Two ways God visits the earth.
        1. In form: theophany
            a. God reveals Himself in some outward, physical manifestation, either voice or apparition, sometimes referred to as "the Angel of the Lord," though not the very substance of God Himself (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol.4, p.8 29).
            b. Some examples are the Lord appearing to Abraham at the Oaks of Manire (Gen 18:1), Moses and the burning bush (Ex 3:2), and Jacob wrestling with a "man" (Gen 32:24-30).
        2. In substance: incarnation
            a. "For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:11).
            b. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.. ..And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory..." (Jn 1:1,14).
            c. "And He is the image of the invisible God..For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him" (Col 1:15, 19).
            d. "And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power" (Heb 1:3).

III. Jesus was the God/Man.

    A. The Hypostatic Union
In the one person of Jesus the Messiah there were two natures: undiminished deity and true humanity. Jesus was fully God and fully man. This is called the hypostatic union.
        1. Is 9:6 intimates the dual nature of Jesus:
            a. His humanity: "A child is born."
            b. His deity: "A Son is given."
        2. Micah 5:2 gives the same picture:
            a. His humanity: He was to be born in Bethlehem.
            b. His deity: He was from everlasting to everlasting.
        3. Jesus, however, was a different person from the Father.
            a. Sometimes He spoke in reference to His deity: "I and the Father are one ['one essence,' lit.]" (Jn 10:30).
            b. Sometimes He spoke in reference to His humanity:". the Father is greater than I"35 (Jn 14:28).
            c. In His deity, Jesus is co-equal with God the Father because they are the same essence. As a man, however, Jesus is voluntarily subject to the Father.

    B. The trinity: not a problem but a solution.
        1. The term "trinity" is a 2nd century term not found in the Bible, but is used to explain specific statements about God that are taught in the Scripture (ISBE, vol.4, p.914).36
        2. Augustine's definition is the classic: "So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet they are not three Gods but one God."
        3. Here's one illustration that is theologically sound: Length, width and height are distinct dimensions, yet each completely subsumes the other. They are co-terminus. Remove any one of them and the other will disappear. In that sense each is distinct, but each is all of what the other is, just like the trinity.
        4. In the final analysis, the trinity is a mystery. It's a revealed doctrine, not an invented one. It isn't the kind of doctrine man would think up.
            a. Excessive attempts at making it rational and understandable almost always lead to error and imbalance.
            b. There's a built in problem with any attempts to illustrate the trinity. We're making an appeal to the rational mind when ultimately no such appeal can be made. We run the risk of making it credible because it's believable, not credible because it's revealed.
            c. Christian acceptance of the trinity is a case where reason bows to revelation.
    C. The humiliation of God.
        1. God stepped down to become a man.
            a. The kenosis: the choice of the Son to empty Himself of His divine rights by becoming a man, and also emptying Himself of His human rights by becoming a servant (ISBE, vol.3, p.9).
            b. "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross"37 (Phil 2:5-8).
        2. However, He never ceased being God.
            a. Jesus laid aside only His privileges of deity, not His divine nature. He had to learn like we do, to grow in understanding and knowledge (Lk 2:52). He did not have full knowledge of the future (Matt 24:36). Some contend that on earth Jesus did not make use of His own powers of deity,38 others contend that He did.
            b. Because of His humbling and obedience, God the Father highly exalted Jesus: "...that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow...and that every tongue should confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord..." (Phil 2:9-11).39

    D. Other verses that teach the deity of Christ.
        1. Specific Scriptures
            a. Rom 9:5 "...from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever."
            b. 1 Tim 6:14-16 "Keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time--He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords; who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.
            c. Titus 1:3-4 "God our Savior...Jesus our Savior."
            d. Titus 2:10, 13 "God our Savior...our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ..."
            e. Titus 3:4, 6 "God our Savior...Jesus Christ our Savior..."

        2. Old Testament texts referring to Yahweh God and applied to Jesus in the New Testament
            a. Every knee shall bow
                1. Is 45:23 "I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from my mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me ['I am God' v. 22] every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance."
                2. Phil 2:10 "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who axe in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
            b. No other savior
                1. Is 43:11 "I, even I, am the Lord; and there is no savior besides Me."
                2. 2 Pet 1:1 "..by the righteousness of our God and savior Jesus Christ."
            c. Only one rock.
                1. Is 44:8 "Is there any God besides me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none."
                2. 1 Cor 10:4 "All ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ."
            d. In Heb 1:10-11 the writer quotes from Ps 102:25, which applied to Yahweh, then applies it to Christ: "Thou, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth. ..Thou art the same, and Thy years will not come to an end."

    "THERE IS ONE GOD" 1 Cor 8:6
    GOD IS...         YAHWEH IS JESUS ..            JESUS IS
    Gen 1:1                                                             Jn 1:1-3
    Job 33:4                   CREATOR                       Col 1:12-17
    Is 40:28                                                             Heb 1:8-12

    1s41:4                         FIRST                             Rev 1:17
    Is 44:6                            &                                 Rev 2:8
    1s48:12                       LAST                              Rev22:13

    Ex 3:13-14                  I AM                               Jn 8:24, 58; 13:19

    Gen 18:25 2                                                       Tim4:1
    Ps96:13                     JUDGE                             2Cor5:10
    Joel 3:12                                                             Rom 14: 10-12

    Ps 47                                                                  Matt 2:1-6
    Is 44:6-8                     KING                              Jn 19:21
    Jer 10:10 1                                                         Tim 6:13-16

    Ps 27:1                                                               Jn 1:9
    Is 6:20                        LIGHT                            Jn8:12

    Ps 106:21                                                           Jn 4:42
    Is 43:3, 11                SAVIOR                           Acts 4: 10-12
    Is 45:21-23                                                        1 Jn 4:14

    Ps 23                                                                 Jn 10:11 _
    Ps 100:3                 SHEPHERD                       Heb 13:20
    Is 40:11                                                             1 Pet 5:4
 

    E. Jesus, the Son of God
        1. In Jesus' culture, any claim to be the Son of God was necessarily a claim to deity. "For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He.. .was calling God His own Father, Making Himself equal with God" (Jn 5:18).
        2. Each being reproduces a being of the same nature as itself.
            a. If a human begets a son, that son would be also a human.
            b. If a god begets a son (as opposed to adopting a son), that son also has the divin nature.
            c. Any begotten son of God would be a god.
            d. There is only one God.
            e. Therefore, the Son of God would also be God.

IV. Why God became a man40

    A. Man rebelled
        1. Loss of Relationship
            a. Death
                1) Gen 2:17 "...for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die."
                2) Eph 2:1 "And you were dead in your transgressions and sins.."
            b. Incurred God's wrath "We...were by nature children of wrath..." (Eph 2:3).
        2. Loss of rulership--slave to Satan
            a. Luke 4:6ff Adam defeated: "..for it has been handed over to me."
            b. 2 Tim 2:26 "...that they might...escape the snare of the devil having been held captive by him to do his will."
            c. 1 John 5:19 Satan rules: "...thc whole world lies in the power of the evil one."

    B. Man must pay: "The wages of sin is death...(Rom 6:23)
        1. God can't let us off the hook: justice
        2. God can't abandon us: love.

    C. Only a free man can set a slave free. Because man is a slave to sin, he needed someone who had never sinned to rescue him.

    D. God's response: He became a man to rescue us. This accomplished:
        1. Towards God, forgiveness, satisfaction of wrath (propitiation)
            a. Acts 13:38 "Therefore let it be known to you that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed unto you..."
            b. Col 2:13 "And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.
        2. Towards Satan, freedom
            a. Luke 4:16-21
            b. Romans 16:20 God will soon crush Satan under our feet.
            c. 2 Tim 2:26 We have been freed from Satan's snare.

    E. God said He would come.

    F. Jesus became:
        1. A perfect revelation of the father (John 1:8, Heb 1:3).
        2. A solution for the love/justice dilemma (Rom 3:26)
        3. Our advocate who could identify with us (Heb 4:15-16). He walked in our shoes.
        4. Our mediator (1 Tim 2:5). He intercedes on our behalf.

V. Jewish culture in the time of Jesus.

    A. Historical background
        1.Culture
            a. The Jews had been severely disciplined by God. Much of their history was characterized by idolatry instead of pure worship of Yahweh.
            b. The Northern Kingdom (Israel) had been dispersed by the Assyrians (722 BC), and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) had been deported to Babylon for 70 years (586 BC)
            c. The Jews then came under the heel of the Greek Empire followed the Romans. The Jews became separatistic, even bigoted. The Gentiles were considered outsiders and sinners (unlike them, the chosen people).
        2. Messianic expectation
            a. Saved because they were Jewish. John the Baptist begins proclaiming the way for the Lord as the prophet that would call the people back to the Lord, there is great deal of Messianic expectation but they were not concerned with spiritual revival. In their minds they were the chosen people, automatically in the favor of God.
            b. Looking for a political Messiah. Their idea of the Messiah was very materialistic. They were under the yoke of oppression, first by the Babylonians, then the Greeks, now the Romans. They were looking for a ruling king to release them from bondage, restoring the Northern and Southern Kingdoms as prophesized by Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
    B. Current leadership
        1. Pharisees
            a. A social religious sect 5,000-6,000.
            b. Very zealous for details of the law - literalists.
            c. Filled with spiritual pride (but dead spiritually).
            d. Liked to be seen in the temples praying, etc.
            e. Paul was a Pharisee.
        2. Sadducees
            a. Centered in temple worship
            b. Very politically connected
            c. Vested interest in maintaining status quo (did not want to upset Roman rule)
            d. Were anti-supernatural (did not believe in angels, after-life, resurrection, etc.)
        3. Scribes: teachers, experts in the law; Bible scholars.
        4. Some truly pious believers: Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna; Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus.

Jesus lives as an ordinary man and avails Himself of the same reserves ordinary men have: the Holy Spirit. But He does it perfectly, epitomizing what we should have been. Shows how far we've fallen.
 

17 As E. F. Harrison put it, '...the whole gamut of redemption history is pregnant with the promise of His coming" (Harrison, p.34).
18 A list of more than 60 specific prophecies fulfilled in the life of Jesus is included in McDowell's work.
19 This "seed of woman" is the first biblical reference to the Messiah. It's sometimes called the "proto-evangel" (Harrison, p. 34).
20 See also Matthew 1:20.
21 See also Genesis 22:18
22 'This is why Jesus told the Jewish leaders, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad" (John 8:56).
23 See also Gal 3:16
24 God reaffirms this promise during the Captivity through the prophet Jeremiah (33:20-21)
25 Some have noted the discrepancy between Matthew's genealogy and Luke's (3:23-38). The solution is really quite simple. Matthew's record is Jesus' ancestry through Joseph traced to David through his son Solomon. This established Jesus' legal right to the throne. Notice the wording of v.16. Luke's account records the genealogical line of Mary herself (Eli was Jospeh's father-in-law), a descendant of David through Nathan, one of his other sons. Jesus, therefore, was a natural descendant of David through Nathan and Mary, and a legal descendant of David through Solomon and Joseph (Archer, p.316).
26 The Hebrew word used here is almah (veiled), a young woman of marriagable age, and not bethulah, denoting a virgin maiden. Some Jewish critics, therefore, suggest that the concept of virgin was never in view here by the prophet. However, when the Hebrew scholars translated the Greek version of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint, or LXX) around 250 BC, they chose the Greek word part henos, meaning virgin, in their rendering of Is 7:14. They understood this to be a prophecy of a virgin birth more than 200 years before Jesus was born (Unger, p. 1159).
27 1t's seems fair to note, however, Harrison's comment: "No evidence can be cited in favor of...Jewish expectation [of a virgin birth]. Is 7:14 was not given a messianic interpretation among the Jews of our Lord's time" (HarrisonSLC, p. 45).
28 1t's clear that the Jewish scholars at the time of Christ understood this passage to be Messianic because they refered to it when the Magi visited them (Matt 2:5-6).
29 A detailed discussion of the dating process can be found in McDowell, p.178-181.
30 Crucifixion was not a method of capital punishment for the Jews and was only practised under Roman jurisprudence (The Encyclopedia Americana, 1960, Vol. 8, p253). "The type of death pictured in Is. 53 and Psalms 22 did not come into practice under the Jewish system until hundreds of years after the account was written" (McDowell, p170).
31 Both the opening and closing verses of this Psalm were uttered by Jesus on the cross ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" and "He has performed it" vs. "It is finished").
32 Seealso Peter's sermon on the resurrection in Acts 2:25ff.
33 The same as Jer 32: 17-18 "Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by your great power...O great and mighiy God. The Lord of hosts is His name."
34 cf Is 45:24
35 Meaning "comparative degree" not "essence" (Vine, sec. 2, p. 280). Due to Jesus' kenosis, the Father was "greater" than He for a time.
36 More extensive treatments of this issue can be found in ISBE, vol. 4, pp. 914-921; and
Archer, p. 357-361.
37 The Phillips translation renders this verse, "...the death He died was the death of a common criminal," which I think better captures the sense of Jesus' humiliation.
38 0ne might well ask, "Then how did Jesus do all His miracles if He didn't use His divine powers?" Jesus worked His miracles and lived a holy life filled with the Holy Spirit, just like we can. That's why He could say, "...he who believes in me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go to the Father...and He will give you another Helper that will be with you forever, that is the Spirit of truth..." (Jn 14: 12,16,17).
39 Paul quotes from Is 45:22-24, identifying Yahweh God as the subject of praise. Here Paul identifies Jesus as that person, strong textual support for the deity of the Messiah.
40 A detailed treatment of this question can be found in Lindsey p.77-87.

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