Jesus of Nazareth is the central figure of Christianity. While his followers claimed that He was the Jewish Messiah, He would be put to death as a criminal. Think about that for a moment. Did Jesus fail as the Messiah? Did He fail in His mission to usher in the Kingdom of God?
Messiah as the King
From the time that the first Roman legionnaires marched into Judea, there was tension throughout Jewish society. People prayed for God’s deliverance from the yoke of Roman rule. The Jews prayed that God would send the promised Messiah during their lifetime.
According to prophets – Messiah, or the “Anointed One”, was to serve as the King of Israel. This Messiah would arrive in Jerusalem with the very power of God. Old Testament prophets told how this “Anointed One” would conquer the enemies of Israel. God would restore the Israelites to their status as God’s chosen people. All nations would come under His rule, and His Kingdom would never end.
Jesus In the Synagogue
On one particular day, a quiet peace settled over the city of Nazareth. This day was the Sabbath day. The Sabbath was a holy time when Jews worshiped their God. On this day, a local man, a carpenter by trade, stood up. The leader of the synagogue handed him a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. The young man’s Hebrew name – Yeshua (or Jesus from the Greek form), was known as the son Joseph of Nazareth. Jesus read from the sacred text in Isaiah 61:1-2. We read this account in Luke 4:18:19.
Luke 4:18-19 (KJV) – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Silent anticipation filled the synagogue. All eyes were on Jesus as He walked back to His seat. His next statement lit a firestorm of excitement, disbelief, even anger. For Jesus declared that “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
A Rough Start to a Short Ministry
Many in the synagogue reacted with anger: “We know you! You’re Joseph’s son. How dare you claim that these things pertain to you.” Jesus answered them with the proverb, “No prophet is accepted in his own country.” The synagogue became an angry mob. They dragged Jesus to a nearby cliff where some would have thrown Him to His death. In the middle of the confusion, Jesus was able to slip away.
In this manner the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth began. He was just 30 years of age. The minimum age for a Priest in Israel. Three and one-half years later it ended. Jesus would be put to death by crucifixion just outside the city of city of Jerusalem at the hands of the Romans. You would think that after this ending Jesus would be a forgotten figure in history. How could this lowly carpenter provoke this intense hate but at the same time attract a loyal following of believers? Why are billions of people today still being affected by His life and teachings? Many in that time wondered, was Jesus the Messiah? It seems that He failed to achieve what had been foretold of Him.
Background of the Prophesied Messiah
To answer these questions let’s go back to ancient Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. Much of the Old Testament is the story of one man and his family. That man was named Abraham. He lived about 4,000 years ago. God told him that all the nations of the earth would be blessed thru his children. In the book of Genesis, we read the story of Abraham and three generations of his family.
Descendants of Abraham’s grandson Jacob [later known as Israel], ended up in Egypt where their numbers multiplied. The Egyptians, seeing them as a threat made them slaves. The book of Exodus tells how God delivered the Hebrews from slavery. And how Moses led them to the land He had promised to Abraham. Descendants of Abraham through Jacob became an important kingdom in the ancient Middle East, bearing the name Israel. They settled in the middle of the trade route between Mesopotamia and Egypt.
Israel’s history was one of wealth and power, as well as invasion and war. The nation split into two kingdoms, Israel, and Judah. Both were eventually led away captive by their enemies. Some from the tribe of Judah (known as Jews) would later return to the land of their fathers. Prophets appeared telling the people to obey and follow God. They declared the future arrival of God’s Messiah to bless all people. Jews of the 1st century lived in the shadow of Herod’s magnificent Temple. But they were under the heel of the Romans. They longed for the promised Messianic Kingdom.
The first-century Jewish historian Josephus and Roman historian Tacitus both attest to the fervor of Jewish messianic anticipation. The first century A.D. was a time of both occupation by the Romans and anticipation of a coming Messiah. Jesus, a hometown Carpenter, claimed that the Spirit of God was upon Him to free His people. This carpenters’ son wasn’t a priest or teacher in the temple or great warrior king. It’s easy to understand the disappointment of the people of Nazareth. How could a humble, local carpenter be the promised Messiah? A Messiah whom the prophets claimed would rule the nations “with a rod of iron.”
Was He the Messiah?
Nazareth was just the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus preached in the synagogues, in people’s houses and the countryside, declaring that the Kingdom of God was at hand. People needed to turn to God in repentance. He performed wondrous miracles, healing the sick and raising the dead. People began to believe. Maybe Jesus was the promised King, the Messiah, Deliverer!
But their Rabbis told them how the Messiah would overthrow the enemies of Israel. Their prophet Isaiah had prophesied that all the peoples of the world would know that the God of Israel was truly God.
Isaiah 2:2 (KJV) – “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.”
It is evident that “mountains” symbolize large nations in prophecy and that the “hills” refer figuratively to smaller nations or tribes. The prophet Isaiah then continues and declares that there will be a kingdom that will affect the entire world.
Isaiah 2:3 (KJV) – “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law & the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”
The Jews of Jesus’ day anticipated this glorious messianic reign. People would “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isaiah 2:4). Maybe this miracle-working carpenter from Nazareth, which Isaiah spoke of was the great warrior King. But about three and one-half years after the people of Nazareth tried to push Jesus off a cliff He enter Jerusalem in triumph. Or at least it seemed so. But He chose a donkey as His means of transportation.
Thousands of people lined the road cheering that the “Son of David,” the “King of Israel,” had finally arrived! The Jewish religious leaders were appalled. They demanded that Jesus tell the crowds to stop this nonsense. He refused. This was when they hatched a plot to get rid of him. And a few days later, they would succeed. Jesus would be dead, crucified by the Roman government.
Jesus was brought before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who asked Him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “It is as you say.” After pressure from the Jewish religious leaders, Pilate finally agreed to their call for execution. The lowly teacher from Nazareth was condemned as a threat to the mighty Roman Empire. The sign above His cross declared that He was the “KING OF THE JEWS”.
The Messiah – A Mystery
The prophet Isaiah declared that the Messiah would rule the nations from Jerusalem. The disciples of Jesus believed He was the long awaited Messiah. He would overthrow the Roman Empire and establish God’s Kingdom on earth. But it didn’t quite happen that way. The Jewish religious leaders plotted against Him. He was even betrayed by one of His own disciples. The Romans beat Him to the point where He wasn’t even recognizable. Finally, the Roman authorities at the urging of the Jewish religious leaders would have him nailed to a cross.
Jesus’ followers were devastated after His death. They lost faith and hope. One would think that the story would end here. But that’s not the case. The Spirit of God would raise Jesus from the dead. He would tell His disciples again to preach the gospel of the Kingdom to the world. Then He departed, returning to the Father in heaven. What about the Messiah’s role of reigning as King over Israel and the entire world?
People began to question: was Jesus the prophesied Messiah? Some felt He failed in His mission. Why would Jesus launch His ministry by quoting from a Messianic prophecy in Isaiah? Did He establish the Kingdom of God in Jerusalem as Isaiah said He would? To solve this mystery, let’s first look at another of Isaiah’s messianic prophecies and then return to the incident in Nazareth.
Isaiah the prophet tells of a Servant of God who would be exalted. This Servant would also be beaten and brutally put to death. Isaiah writes, “As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.” (Isaiah 52:14-15).
Both the word of God teaches that it’s impossible for a morally corrupt man to enter into the presence of a righteous God unless God grants that person forgiveness thru divine grace that comes thru repentance. And grace has no significance unless there is justice. Think about it: Forgiveness has no meaning unless someone has done something wrong.
The central biblical teaching is of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as the “Messiah”, the “Anointed One” or “The Christ”. Why was it necessary for Jesus to die? Why does the Bible focus so much attention on His death as well as His resurrection? His death has no meaning unless we understand why Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified. It’s vital to know who Jesus Christ is. How His life, death and resurrection applies to us, is the most important knowledge you can possess. This truth can change your life!
God’s Justice – A Simple Concept
The Bible declares that “The Wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)“. God’s justice requires your life as punishment for sins from your sinful nature. God’s love for mankind does not change His dislike of sin. Because of God’s love a substitute was supplied for all of us. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, came to earth to bless all nations. He would take our place. He would act as our substitute. Unconditional love like that can’t be earned. We can only acknowledge our guilt and throw ourselves on God’s mercy. We can gratefully accept His love and mercy exhibited in the sacrifice of His Son. His love leads to our repentance. The prophet Isaiah foretold of the blood of the “suffering Servant” which would sprinkle many nations. Blood was a powerful image for first-century Jews.
Day in and day out, Herod’s temple was filled with the sounds and smells of sheep, goats and other animals being sacrificed. Their blood was acting as a substitute so that the Jewish people could have favor with God. In the book of Hebrews, we see that this sacrificial system was intended to portray something much bigger. This was the great mystery of how one Man’s blood would be shed in place for all men.
In the book of Isaiah, we read that God’s Servant would be despised and rejected. He would be “wounded for our transgressions… and by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah:53:5). The gruesome details of Jesus’ death on the cross are described in the first four books of the New Testament. Jesus was beaten with rods and punched by soldiers. He was stripped naked and flogged with a whip of leather strips in which were embedded bits of metal and bone. This scourge would tear and mutilate the human flesh. Nails were driven into His hands and feet. The crowds mocked him has He hung on the cross. Finally, He was stabbed with a spear. Isaiah had foretold all these things centuries in advance. Now we can perhaps begin to understand what Jesus was teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth.
Back to Nazareth
Let’s go back to where we started. The synagogue leader handed Jesus a scroll of the book of Isaiah. Jesus opened the scroll and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord…”
What’s interesting is that Jesus stopped in the middle of a sentence. The next line of the passage referred to “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah:61:1-2).
Day of Vengeance
This “Day of Vengeance” is a reference to another prophecy in Isaiah. A terrifying prophecy of a time when “the indignation of the Lord is against all nations [people]” (Isaiah:34:1-2). There was one such “day of vengeance”. This day of vengeance occurred about 40 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. During this “day of vengeance,” the entire city of Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed. And in doing so Jesus would end the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Not one stone would be left on another (Olivet discourse).
Jesus came as a lowly carpenter and a teacher (rabbi). He would teach the true religion of God and help many people with various afflictions through miracles. He died as the substitute sacrifice for the wrong choices of all humanity. Your sins and my sins. Freedom from the bondage of sin was made possible through His selfless act. Without His first coming “to heal the brokenhearted [and] to set at liberty those who are oppressed,” there is no Christianity.
What This Means to Us
A relationship with your Creator is made possible because Jesus was a sacrificial substitute. You can become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Not just a believer but a disciple. A disciple seeks to learn from a particular teacher. A disciple dedicates his or her life to imitating that teacher. There are enough believers in Christianity. Committed disciples are what Jesus Christ wants. When you study the Gospels, you’ll find the core of Jesus’ message is the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus expected His disciples to be prepared for that Kingdom. After His resurrection, Jesus continued to preach the kingdom of God.
Acts 1:3 (KJV) – “To whom also he shewed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”
But What is the “Kingdom of God”?
What exactly is the “Kingdom of God”? The book of Romans gives us a hint as to what the Kingdom of God is and what it is not. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink. It is not a physical kingdom but a spiritual kingdom. It’s a kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy. In this verse of Romans did you notice the connection between the Kingdom of God and the Holy Ghost?
Romans 14:17 (KJV) – “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”
Jesus spoke of the kingdom when the Pharisees tried to pin him down by demanding when the kingdom of God would come. Jesus declared that the kingdom of God would not come by “observation”. The kingdom of God would not be seen because the kingdom of God is within each believer.
Luke 17:20-21 (KJV) – “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Who or What is the Holy Ghost?
John 14:15-18 (KJV) – “If ye love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”
Let’s focus on the words “I will come to you”. There’s a lot of talk about the coming of the Lord. But please consider this: every time someone receives God’s Spirit, the Holy Ghost, the Lord Jesus has come. Jesus in this passage is declaring that the Father would not leave them comfortless but that He (Jesus) would come to them.
Who or What is the Comforter?
The answer to who is the Comforter is found in the 14th chapter of John.
John 14:26 (KJV) – “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”
Aren’t the scriptures clear in John chapter 14? The Comforter is the Holy Ghost. These are the words of Jesus declaring that the Father will send the Holy Ghost, which is the Comforter, in His (Jesus) name. And this Comforter would open up their understanding of spiritual things.
How to Receive the Comforter (Holy Ghost)
Nicodemus was an important man of his day. He was a ruler of the Jews. But Nicodemus had enough integrity to seek out Jesus. Even though it was “by night” Nicodemus was hungry for the truth. Jesus got right down to business by declaring that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God”. This “born again” language confused Nicodemus as he assumed Jesus was talking about the natural birth process. Instead, Jesus was referring to a Spiritual birth. A new birth of the water and the Spirit. By meaning “born again,” Nicodemus would be ready to enter into the “kingdom of God”.
John 3:1-7 (KJV) – “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.”
Luke chapter 24 continues to open up our understanding as to the nature of the kingdom of God. It refers the disciples to the prophet Isaiah and speaks of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day. It states that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in the name of Jesus. Then Jesus would send the “promise of the Father”. This “promise of the Father” was none other than the Comforter or Holy Ghost.
Luke 24:45–49 (KJV) – “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, [Isaiah] And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.”
Promise of the Father Arrived on the Day of Pentecost
Did the promise of the Father arrive? If so when? Look at Acts chapter two. The promise of the Father, the Holy Ghost, arrived in the first century A.D. on the day of Pentecost.
Acts 2:1-4 (KJV) – “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
First Salvation Message
Continuing in the books of Acts we see Peter preaching to a crowd on the day of Pentecost. He says that they must repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they would receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. He then connects this Holy Ghost with the “promise”. In other words, this Holy Ghost was the “promise of the Father”.
Acts 2:38-39 (KJV) – “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise [promise of the Father] is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
Romans 8:14-16 (KJV) – “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”
We enter the Kingdom of God when we are born again of the water and the Spirit. Jesus said that He would not leave them comfortless but that He would come to them. This Comforter is the very Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost. The arrival of the Holy Ghost is not a future event it is a present reality. Jesus “comes” as a Spirit to indwell His believers.