Ecclesiastes: Wisdom From a Godly King

I have often heard the book of Ecclesiastes referred to as a book that records wisdom from the perspective of one who does not know or care about God. I have also heard Bible college and seminary professors refer to it as a book about despair or pessimism about the whole of human life.

Finding out who wrote it and why would go a long way toward figuring out if these ideas about Ecclesiastes are correct, so i undertook the task for a paper in seminary a few years ago. I was surprised by what I found out. It turns out that the book was written as a kind of kingly autobiography to pass on a lifetime of wisdom to the next generation of leaders – usually the king’s own sons. It has a foreword and an afterword by a trusted colleague or editor, just like many modern books do.

In short, this is not the type of book that is meant to pass on an overly pessimistic world-view. Otherwise nobody would want to take the throne after him.

What surprised me even more was who wrote the book. What is normally translated as “the Preacher” or “the Teacher” is more likely his proper name, “Qoheleth.” He tells us that he was the wisest king who ever ruled in Jerusalem and that he cultivated the arts and civil engineering more than any king before him. Most of us have been taught that this has to mean Solomon – but how many Israelite kings ruled in Jerusalem before Solomon? Exactly one: David his father.

I was surprised to learn that there is one king in David’s lineage who is honoured even more highly by God in the Bible than even David: King Hezekiah. Shocking? Here’s what 1 Kings 18:5-7 has to say about him: “5 Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. 6 He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the LORD had given Moses. 7 And the LORD was with him; he was successful in whatever he undertook.

For this and other reasons mentioned in my previous post, my money is on Hezekiah as the writer of the book of Ecclesiastes. (I’m not the first to mention him as the likely author. That honour goes to an ancient Jewish Rabbi mentioned in the Talmud).

So who we have as the author is one of the most successful followers of God in ancient Israel. One who managed to do things for God that even David and Solomon could not accomplish (taking down high places and idol worship, for instance). He seems to have been even wiser than Solomon in the wives department, having neither multiple wives nor a foreign wife. He led his people successfully through the famous Assyrian siege of Jerusalem with no lives lost by divine miracle. And, unlike Solomon, he never left God. In short, the most successful man of God you can imagine wrote his autobiography to pass on wisdom to his sons and posterity.

This is the man who is supposed to be so negative about life and God? I don’t think so.

Yes, there are many things in the world that are empty and meaningless in themselves. He lists, among others,

  • pleasure through laughter and wine
  • being foolish
  • being wise in a world of fools
  • being a great builder and project manager
  • being rich and famous
  • losing riches in bad investments or scams
  • an unjust justice system
  • oppression of the poor and helpless by the rich and powerful
  • living alone
  • living with a troublesome spouse or family

The problem with any of these comes when you confront the reality of death. If this is all there is, our toil and labour mean nothing. Our lives mean nothing if death is the end.

When we die, we no longer have control of whatever resources we acquired during life. We have no idea what our kids will do with their inheritance. Will they use it to build a good life or squander it? We don’t know.

Will anyone remember me after I die? Maybe a few will for one generation. If I make enough of an impact in life, maybe two or three generations will, but most likely not.

Each time Qoheleth talks about something that he considers a vanity and a chasing after wind he comes back to the one simple thing that a person can do to enjoy life. Eat, drink and find satisfaction in your own work. This enjoyment of your food, drink and work comes as a gift from God, and is not possible without God’s direct blessing.

In fact, he says, “To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This, too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

This is why godly wisdom triumphs in the end. It is based on a foundation of fear of the Lord. The difference between the wise and the fool isn’t necessarily in the amount toil in life. It may be that both work equally hard. It is the simple gift of enjoying the simple things in life that comes from God. Enjoy the food and drink that working provides for you. Enjoy the fellowship of like-minded people who love God as you do.

As he points out in 3:7-9, “Everyone’s toil if for their mouth, yet their appetite is never satisfied. What advantage have the wise over fools? What do the poor gain by knowing how to conduct themselves before others? Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite. This too is meaningless, a chasing after wind.”

The message is pretty simple. Be content with what you already have. If more comes your way, fine. Be happy with that, too. That’s a message that certainly runs counter to the consumer age we live in.

He also adds one piece of wisdom about how to face an unfair world. Chapter 3 brings the famous “there is a time for everything” poem that has been immortalized in a song by Simon and Garfunkel. It turns out that there is a time for another thing a little later in the chapter. “I said to myself, ‘God will bring into judgment both the righteous and the wicked, for there will be a time for every activity, a time to judge every deed.’” (3:17) Knowing that God plans to make it right in the end can help us keep our sanity in a crazy, mixed-up and increasingly godless world.

This mediation on final judgment is a clue that Hezekiah believes that death is not all there is. Somehow God has a planned time and place for making everything right in the world and for judging the good and the evil in the world. There is vindication for obedience to God as well as a very different reward for disobedience.

So, what do workers really gain from their toil? Hezekiah replies,

(3:9-14) “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God.”

[Eating and drinking is not everything he has in mind here, as we will see in the next verse.]

“I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.”

This is why it is better to do good and be happy while we live. What God does is what endures forever. Doing his will here on earth not only pleases him, it also cooperates with that which endures forever. God’s will is forever. Somehow Hezekiah knew that, no matter how things look, God is going to take care of his faithful people in the end. He stayed with God till his peaceful death, and was greatly honoured by both his people and his God.

The final words of his editor (12:9-14) capture the flavour of his main point well. Life is only worth living in relationship with our God, the Creator. His editor notes that these words were written by a very wise man. It is important to pay attention to them. The last two verses of the book sum up Hezekiah’s own life mission. “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

Jesus, who inspired King Hezekiah long before His own human birth, knew well what the message of that ancient wise king meant. He rephrased it in such memorable terms as

“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33)  as well as

“Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21)

He also made sure that his first apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, was aware of Hezekiah’s main point, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Tim 6:6)

This is a time when King Hezekiah’s message needs to be heard in the church with full voice. There are more ways than ever to waste our lives chasing after the wind. Between the pursuit of wealth and ever-more gadgets we could spend a lot of time and money chasing things that don’t mean anything of eternal value.

Not only does the ancient sage talk about using wealth unwisely, he also talks about what to do when things start going badly.

(11:7-10) “Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun. However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all. But let them remember (consider) the days of darkness, for there will be many. You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all theses things God will bring you into judgment. So then, banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless.”

Our age worships youth and vigour. But youth and vigour don’t last very long.

God’s work, however, lasts forever.

Wouldn’t it be much better to put our time and money into doing the will of our lord, Jesus Christ?

Posted in Faith, Religion | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Partners In Time

[Summertime is a time for many things, including falling behind in posting. This post is dedicated to those choosing to begin a life together in marriage. It comes from a devotional I was privileged to deliver at the wedding of the daughter of good friends.]

Sugar and spice and everything nice. That’s what little girls are made of. Little boys, it seems, are made of entirely different stuff: Frogs and snails and puppy-dog tails.

Many ancient myths from different cultures describe the beginnings of humankind. In several of them, man and woman are said to be made of different materials and even by different deities. As a result, men and women enjoy (if that’s the right word), very different roles and responsibilities. Mostly, that translates to men dominating women.

Jewish and Christian traditions are based on a common story that has a different – and better! – beginning. God makes the man out of the ground, and then makes woman out of the man’s own body. What does that say about the relationship between man and woman?

A lot of people seem to think this implies that the man is somehow better than the woman because of their order of creation.

What the story actually says, however, is that the woman is made of exactly the same stuff as the man. In ancient times, that was tantamount to saying they were equal. As if that isn’t enough, God also grants dominion over all the creatures to both man and woman, who are both made in God’s very own image. You can read the details for yourselves in the first two chapters of the Bible.

The story says, ‘Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.  The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman, ‘ for she was taken out of man.”  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.’ (Genesis 2:22-24)

So the reason a man and a woman partner together through thick and thin is because the man realizes that the woman is “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” In modern words: her life is his life. Her needs are his needs. Her strengths are his strengths. Her triumphs are his triumphs. Her joy is his joy. Nothing that she accomplishes can diminish his accomplishments because he shares her pride in her work.

Her sorrows are his sorrows. Her tears are his tears, and his heart breaks if he is the one who caused them. They are in it together. All the way.

Imagine the awe and the wonder in Adam’s mind.

He might have noticed different things about her than we modern people might expect, like: Wow! She’s just like me! She has opposable thumbs – we can build things together! She has a mind and an imagination – we can dream and imagine a better world together! Her ideas and my ideas together will be better than just mine alone would be! Wow!

Wow! She’s different from me, too! We can have a family together! We can make more people just like us! Their sameness and differences will change the world! Imagine the possibilities! Wow!

We know in hindsight that things didn’t always go well with Adam and eve. Their mistakes unleashed terrible suffering, toilsome struggle and evil into the world. As a result, our world can be a hazardous and oppressive place to live in at times. However, even when things went badly they stayed together and weathered it together.

Why? Because the only thing worse than facing heartbreak, toil and suffering is facing heartbreak, toil and suffering ALONE.

But there were good times, too. Times for appreciating successes and celebrating victories over adversity. Good times are even better with someone to share them with. Especially that special someone who is just perfect for you.

The one who shares your joy, and appreciates your struggles.

It’s wonderful and awesome to celebrate the recognition that a man and a woman have found that perfect partner for themselves.

We can celebrate with them that they have become lifelong partners in marriage.

 

Partners in good times.

Partners in bad times.

Partners… for all time.

Posted in Faith, Religion | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Seventh Day of Unleavened Bread

In a post from last year called Jesus and the Red Sea Crossing I tried to establish a timeline for the Israelite exodus from Egypt. I was surprised to discover two things I had not noticed before.

The first is that there were only three recorded stops before the Red Sea: Succoth, Etham and Pi-hahiroth. This seemed to indicate that the Red Sea crossing took place during the third night after Passover.

The second is that the waters came back together, drowning the Egyptians, at daybreak on that third day. For me, the link between this and Jesus’ rising at dawn on the third day was an eye-opener. Jesus fulfilled all of the types of the Exodus!

This dawn drowning marked the end of the military threat from Egypt, meaning that the people of Israel were now finally free from the clutches of Egypt.

Or were they?

We’ll return to that question in a moment after we work out the timeline a bit further.

My proposed timeline inadvertently undermined a belief I had (which was widely held in Worldwide Church of God circles) that the crossing of the Red Sea had taken place on the 7th day after they began their journey out of Egypt. So if the 7th day isn’t the day of the Red Sea crossing….

… What is it about the 7th day that makes it so special that God marks it with a holy day?

Reading about what happened after the crossing revealed a clue. Exodus 15:1-21 records a brief morning worship session of singing a victory song about God’s deliverance. Verse 22 states that they then began what turned into a 3-day journey into the desert. During those three days they travelled without finding water anywhere.

After three days they finally end up at a place that has water, but the water is too bitter to drink. (This leads them to name the place “Bitter” or “Marah” in Hebrew.) After an arduous 3-day walk without water, ending up in this place with undrinkable water is the last straw. The people begin bitter recriminations against Moses.

Moses cries out to the Lord, and the Lord answers by showing him a piece of wood. Moses picks it up and throws it into the water. The water immediately becomes healthy to drink. God covenants with them there that if they follow him faithfully he will be their Healer. The context suggests that perhaps the bitter water had been making them sick.

The following day he leads them to Elim, where there are 12 springs and 70 palm trees. Since there are 12 tribes in Israel, the number of springs indicates that this is a special place that had been prepared for them.

I’m not absolutely certain if the 7th day of the exodus occurred while they were at Marah or at Elim.

If they were at Elim, the 7th day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread would represent a rest from their arduous journey. It makes some sense to see a respite from hard journeying memorialized as a Sabbath of rest.

On the other hand, if they were at Marah on the 7th day, there is a very different message. After the bitter complaining of Israel, God not only provides the means to make the water healthy, but also enters into a covenant with them to protect them from “all the diseases of Egypt” as their Healer.

If the 7th day represents the deliverance from bitter water at Marah then it becomes a symbol of how difficult leaving Egypt really is. Leaving Egypt is not a cake-walk. It is a long and arduous journey.

In fact, the adults who physically left Egypt still longed to go back. They complained bitterly each time things got difficult. They even refused to go into the Promised Land later on when the 10 spies made it sound difficult. That refusal cost them a glorious opportunity. It entitled them to 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, where that generation all died without inheriting the land.

In that sense the 7th day of Unleavened Bread also becomes a reminder that without God’s help we cannot complete the arduous journey. He must turn the bitter waters sweet. He must provide the healing in our bodies and in our souls for us to complete the journey.

Jesus himself notes that the journey with him will not be easy. The Second Exodus is no less arduous than the First. In John 16:33 Jesus warns his disciples that they will face “tribulation” in this world.

Even the Apostle Paul preaches a gospel of Jesus Christ that includes a warning of tribulation for disciples in Acts 14:21-22. and 1 Thessalonians 3:4 among others.

In all the above Jesus and Paul agree that only Jesus Christ, acting through the Holy Spirit, can keep us faithful under trial and testing. He provides the way through the unpleasant times and the awful circumstances with his presence in us. He gives us the “healing” power to continue all the way to the Promised Land no matter where circumstances take us and no matter who opposes us. For me, that is the message of the Last Day of Unleavened Bread.

Or, as the Apostle Paul put it in Romans 8:34-39:

It is Christ that died , yea rather , that is risen again , who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written , For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.   Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.   For I am persuaded , that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present , nor things to come  Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Posted in Faith, gospel, Religion | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Was Jesus’ Last Supper the “Real” Passover?

When Jesus ate his last supper with his disciples he did so on the night before the Passover lambs were slain. It is well attested that Jesus had asked the disciples to go ahead to prepare the Passover meal (Mat. 23:17-20; Mk 14:12-17; Lk. 22:7-14). He also prefaced his “last supper” with the statement, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the Kingdom of God.”

Because Jesus appears to call his last supper a “Passover,” many who followed the teachings of the late Herbert W. Armstrong believe that Jesus kept the “real” Passover, while the entire Jewish people of Jesus’ day slew the Passover lamb at the wrong part of the day.

God gave the Israelites the following instructions in Ex. 12: 6 “You shall keep [the lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight [literally: between the evenings].”

Herbert Armstrong believed, as many modern Christian translators do, that “between the evenings” means that twilight portion of the day between sunset and dark. The belief comes from the idea that Jewish people believe that the Sabbath begins on Friday night at sunset.

They then interpret Jesus’ last meal with his disciples at the beginning of Nisan 14 as the proper time for Passover and project that onto Moses’ Passover before the Exodus. Meanwhile the Jewish people killed the Passover lamb toward the end of the 14th of Nisan.

Attempts to make the slaying of the original Passover lamb happen in the very brief period between sundown and dark at the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th run into problems for the following reasons:

1) God gives this command in Ex. 12: 11 “This is how you will eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the Passover of the Lord. ” Why eat it in a hurry and dressed for travel if they don’t leave until after sundown on the 15th, about 20 hours later?

2) The unleavened bread that the festival is named after reflects the speed with which all of the events took place. Notice what is explained in Ex. 12: 33-34.  “The Egyptians urged the people to hasten their departure from the land, for they said, ‘We shall all be dead.’ So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls wrapped up in their cloaks on their shoulders.” They literally did not have time to make their bread before leaving Egypt. That makes it hard to argue that they spent 12 hours despoiling the Egyptians before leaving.

3) Not only is the night they eat the Passover meal the night the death angel passes over the Israelites, it is also the first day of Unleavened Bread, according to Ex. 12:12-17. You can only make the meal the day before if you stop reading between verses 14 and 15.

Notice that the first day of unleavened bread is the actual day that they left Egypt. They dressed to leave in a hurry. The destroyer killed the firstborn at midnight, while the blood on the doorposts protects the Israelites. They are dressed and ready for travel. God also tells them that the Egyptians will push them out of the country so fast that they won’t have time to cook bread …

4) Verses 24-27 indicate that Passover is both the day of the deliverance from the destroyer and also deliverance from Egypt.

5) Verses 29-34 indicate that Moses and Aaron are called upon that same night to roust the people out of Egypt. They do not have time to provision themselves with bread, but are packed and ready to move.

6) Exodus 12:18-19 uses the expression “on the fourteenth day of the month at even” to indicate when the days of unleavened bread begin. That is why the Passover meal is to be eaten without leaven.

Exo 12:18  In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even.

Exo 12:19  Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land.

7) Nisan 14 does not begin at sunset. It begins when the day turns to night – at dark. Where the confusion comes in is that Jewish people do begin the observance of Sabbath at sunset on Friday. Christians then make the completely natural assumption that Jews believe that days begin at sunset.

What Christians are not generally aware of is that Jews understand every other day to begin at dark. Only the Sabbath is considered to begin at sunset. Because they do not want to inadvertently work on the Sabbath they give themselves the few minutes between sunset and dark as a “hedge” around the actual Sabbath, which actually begins at dark (apparently when you can see at least three stars in the sky).

When you clear up the misunderstanding about when days actually begin, you understand that eating the Passover lamb during the night of Nisan 14th would require the sacrifice to take place before dark on Nisan 13, not Nisan 14.

8) According to the Paleo Times website Jewish interpreters do not share this confusion about when the Passover lamb is slaughtered and eaten. “Between the evenings” is a term that has only one meaning to Israelites and Jews. It refers to the late afternoon period between about 3 pm and nightfall. That is precisely why we know Jesus was killed at the time of the Passover sacrifice. The link above provides the most reasonable and complete explanation I have seen about the meaning of the Hebrew expression “between the evenings” that is usually translated as “twilight” or “dusk” by modern Christian translators.

It is apparently known that the Samaritans kept Passover the day before the Judean Jews. Some Christian scholars have speculated that Sadducees agreed with the Samaritans, but they do not have proof that the priesthood actually performed the sacrifice a day early. Why we should prefer the timing of the dissident Samaritan sect over that of the people who passed the Old Testament on to us is a mystery to me.

9) Jesus is no shrinking violet when it comes to telling the Scribes, Phariseees and Sadducees when they are in the wrong. At no point is it recorded that he tells them they missed the date of Passover by one day when they eat the meal on the 15th of Abib/Nisan instead of the 14th.

10) Jesus did ask his disciples to prepare a place for them to eat the Passover meal and did eat a meal with them the night before the Passover that the rest of his countrymen ate. He did tell them that he desired to eat “this Passover with them before” he “suffered.” What is not certain is that the meal they were eating was actually called a Passover meal. He may well have been referring to the following night’s meal as the Passover he had desired to eat with them before he suffered.

For example, we are given no specifics about what the meal consisted of. Was it lamb? Was the bread they ate unleavened? Had they cast leaven out of the room?

Jesus’ closest disciples refused to violate the Sabbath even to anoint him for burial. Would they not have said something or at least have inquired if Jesus were asking them to observe a Passover on a day that violated the sensibilities of their upbringing?

As per point 7 above, the lamb certainly would have been sacrificed on the wrong day to be a Passover meal. It would be safest to just consider it Jesus’ Last Supper.

Conclusion: The Passover lamb was killed and cooked in the late afternoon on Nisan 14 and  eaten after dark on the 15th. In other words, the Israelites left Egypt on the same day as the Passover meal was eaten, the 15th a Abib (the month later renamed Nisan).

Finally, the image of Jesus as the Passover lamb works much better if he was killed at the same time as the lambs were killed on Nisan 14. The Gospel writers agree that Jesus was killed at “the ninth hour, or midafternoon on Nisan 14. This agrees with the traditional time the Passover lambs were sacrificed for the Passover meal to be eaten that night.

Posted in Faith, Religion | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Passover: Jesus and the Second Exodus

This post represents the gist of a two-part message given during Passover week about how Jesus fulfils the promise of a second exodus of God’s people after what the prophet Daniel refers to as the “times of the Gentiles.” He does so in ways that those who carefully read the Scriptures should recognize that Jesus functions as a type of Moses, as Moses himself predicted in Deuteronomy 18: 15. (In case anyone wonders where this particular interpretation of Deut. 18:15 comes from, Peter (Acts 3:22) and Stephen (Acts 7:37) refer to exactly this verse when they speak about Jesus being sent to the people of Judea.

To set the stage let us review a little bit of what happened immediately before and during the original exodus of Israel from Egypt. I have highlighted some key words that will be significant during Jesus’ later ministry.

In Exodus 10:21-29 God sends the 9th of the 10 plagues on Egypt, a plague of darkness so deep that people do not dare leave their homes for 3 days. This is followed by the plague of the death of the firstborn of all Egyptian people and livestock in Exodus 11.

They are thrust out of Egypt by a very frightened populace that very night or early morning. And proceed to the shore of the Red Sea (or Reed Sea?). Exactly 3 days after they have been freed from  Egyptian slavery they emerge from the sea and the Egyptian army is drowned in that sea at daybreak.

They proceed to Mt. Sinai, where God speaks to them, giving them His commandments and statutes. In Exodus 24:3-8 they formally agree to enter a covenant with their God by saying “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” The priests ratify the covenant by sprinkling the “blood of the covenant” (from sacrificial animals) on them in a mass ceremony. Moses then goes up on the mountain to receive the stone tablets that the covenant is written on. (These tablets probably contain everything written in Exodus 20-23.)

After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness due to disobedience they finally are set to enter the Promised Land. Moses knows, however, that they will disobey and eventually be ejected from the land once again. The book of Deuteronomy records Moses’ final sermon to the Israelites before they enter the land. Chapter 28 outlines the basic blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience to the covenant. The section on curses is much longer than the one about blessings.

Deuteronomy 30:1-7 offers bad news and good news for the people of Israel. The bad news: they will disobey and be ejected from the land, suffering under a succession of Gentile kingdoms. The good news: there will be a re-gathering of the people of God promised after the long and arduous captivity.

The “gathering” will be characterized by three things: a gathering from all nations that God has scattered them to; a change (“circumcision”) of heart; and curses being sent upon the peoples who persecuted God’s people.

In time the people of Israel began to disobey God and his covenant, and these prophetic curses began to come to pass. The prophet Jeremiah lived during the final years of the decline of Judah, the last remaining part of Israel. Jeremiah predicted that the Babylonians would destroy the Temple and take Judah into captivity, confirming Moses’ prediction in Deuteronomy. Like Moses, he also predicts in Jeremiah 50:4-9 a second exodus. Interestingly, Jeremiah predicts that the “remnant” will be instructed to “leave “Babylon” before its destruction. He notes in Jeremiah 31:31-34 that this “exodus” will involve a new covenant with God that is “not like” the previous covenant.

Features of this “new covenant” include God putting his law into their hearts (instead of tablets of stone) and forgiveness of their sin, including not remembering it anymore.

Roughly 6 centuries later a Bethlehem-born Galilean prophet named Jesus, a descendant of King David, approaches a small band of fishermen. He recruits them to spread good news about the Kingdom of God in Matt. 3:18-19 with the statement, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

He gathers a group of disciples around a mountain (reminding onlookers of the gathering at Mt. Sinai) to teach them, and a multitude gathers around to listen. In his famous Sermon on the Mount in Matt. 5-7:28 Jesus’ outlines a set of principles that look a lot like covenant stipulations, including blessings and curses. Jesus later condensed these principles for his disciples during his last supper with them in John 13:34-35. “Love one another as I have loved you.”

The disciples confirm that they will obey him in John 16:29-30 and Jesus tells his Father that he accepts their agreement in 17:6-8. This is the equivalent of their saying “everything the Lord has said we will do.”

During that meal Matthew records in 26:28 that Jesus tells his disciples that the wine they were drinking together represents his “blood of the new covenant” which was to be shed for them to deal with sin.

For 3 hours before Jesus’ death on the cross the entire land is covered in darkness according to Luke 23:44-49. Immediately following this darkness is the death of the firstborn of God. Here we have a plague of darkness followed by the death of the firstborn – reminders of the Exodus that had also occurred during the original Passover/Exodus events more than a millennium before.

Jesus dies during the time that the Passover lambs are being sacrificed for that evening’s ceremonial meal. John 19:33 records that Jesus’ blood was shed, just as Jesus had predicted. His blood replaces the blood of the lamb that had been placed on the doorposts and jambs to protect the Israelites from the “destroyer” of the firstborn. It becomes Jesus’ blood of the new covenant that is shed for the remission of sin for all who believe in him.

Jesus rises the third day at dawn, at precisely the time the waters of the Red Sea covered the Egyptian army so many centuries before, completely assuring their freedom from bondage. Jesus’ resurrection eventually assures the disciples of freedom from sin and freedom from the fear of death through the promise of resurrection.

A few days after his resurrection Jesus is at a meal with his disciples. In John 20:19-23  he breathes on them and says, “Receive the Spirit.” He then tells them that he has given them the power to forgive sin or withhold forgiveness of sin. This is powerful stuff! Yet the gospel message is about precisely that: God accepting repentance and forgiving sin so that human beings and God can finally work together in harmony as one. The disciples are being commissioned to reach out to others and offer them forgiveness in God’s name and entrance into his redeemed community.

Jesus’ disciples decide to try to go back to their old lifestyle and re-enter the fishing trade. John 21:1-25 records how Jesus confronts them with this question, “Have you caught any fish yet?” They hadn’t, even though they were experienced fishermen and had been at it all night. Jesus tells them to drop the nets from the opposite sides of their boats, and they soon fill to almost the breaking point.

By the time they come to shore Jesus already has a fish and bread dinner ready for them. (He managed to get fish without a boat or a net!) He then resets Peter’s attitude to ministry by telling him three times that he must demonstrate his love for Jesus by feeding Jesus’ sheep. Now they are willing to go back to work, but need extra help to get the job of being “fishers of men” done.

Jesus provides that help by sending his Holy Spirit, as recorded in Acts 2. Acts 2:42-47 demonstrates the new covenant in action. “Fish” are now being caught. People are loving one another as Jesus loved them. Jesus’ word is being taught throughout the area.

Where & when is the gathering? As an example, in Exodus 12:37 Israelites gathered in Ramses before journeying to Succoth. In his ministry Jesus had commissioned his disciples to become “fishers of men.” People are obviously being gathered into discipleship of Jesus in the book of Acts. How and when does the gathering predicted in Deuteronomy 30 happen?

The gathering happens over time but culminates in resurrection at the appointed time, according to the Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 15:20-26. “Those who are Christ’s” are gathered “at his coming.” In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 Paul reveals that this gathering of both the living and the dead in Christ happens in the air at Jesus’ return. It is a literal “lifting up” of the people of God out of the grave into new life.

In other words, being called into fellowship with Jesus and his church is the beginning of the gathering from all the nations. We begin our journey, not by leaving the physical territory, but rather by leaving the system of this world by following Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

What we are called to leave behind is symbolically referred to in Rev 18:1-5 as “Babylon the Great,” the great human civilization that opposes God’s will. We make a choice instead to dwell in the City of God, among God’s other saints who comprise a completely different civilization. Notice that curses do eventually come upon the city that opposes God and persecutes God’s faithful people.

Jesus’ call to all of us is “Come out of her my people.”

We leave behind the sin.

We leave behind the pride.

We leave behind the greed.

We leave behind the selfishness.

We leave behind everything that hurts others and wrecks our lives.

Instead we do as Jesus taught his disciples. We love each other as Jesus loved us. We become “fishers of men.” In Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”

Or in Jesus’ own words on the mountain, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

Posted in Faith, gospel, Religion | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

When Did Jesus Die? Part 2

What year did Jesus die?

Several proposals for solving the Passover dating of Jesus’ death rely on astronomical calculations that are tied to the calculated year that Jesus died.

Three researchers whose work appeared long before I began to even think about these things are Roger Rusk, a former professor of Physics and two Christian ministers, Arthur M. Ogden and Jack W. Langford. The former two, writing in 1984 and 1987 respectively, seem to base their astronomical data on the work of Rusk in 1974. Rusk and Langford use similar reasoning to my own to come up with a Thursday Passover, while Ogden is uncertain of whether Jesus died on Thursday or Friday, but concludes with the other two that Jesus died on Passover, just before the First Day of Unleavened Bread in A.D. 30.

 

Dating From the Start of Jesus’ Ministry

A direction many have tried to start from is to calculate the year of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Luke 3:1-3 provides a clue by mentioning that John the Baptist’s ministry began in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. There are complications regarding exactly which year Luke is using as the start of Tiberius’ reign, since he was co-regent with his predecessor for about one year. Did Luke begin with his co-regency (11 A.D.) or with his solo reign (14 A.D.)? The former would place the start of John’s and Jesus’ ministries in 26 or 27 A.D. The latter would begin the ministries in 28 or 29 A.D.

Also, we are not told exactly how long between John’s ministry start and that of Jesus’. We are not told exactly how long Jesus’ ministry was, though the mention by John of three Passovers in his Gospel implies a 3 year or 3.5 year ministry. This would narrow the range of Jesus’ death from 29 to 32 A.D.

In an article in Truth Magazine (Volume 28, no. 10, pp. 296-297, May 17, 1984) Arthur Ogden points out another clue, found in a rebuttal to Jesus’ statement “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:19-20). They reply, “Forty and six years was this temple in building, and will thou rear it up in three days?”

As Ogden notes, “There statement is significant because the temple at that time was still under construction and was not completed until A.D. 64. The temple work was started by Herod the Great in the eighteenth year of his reign, or 19 B.C. Counting forty-six years from 19 B.C. brings us to 27 A.D. Jesus was in Jerusalem for the observance of the first Passover of His ministry (A.D. 27) when this discussion took place (Jn. 2:13). It is thought that John records three other Passovers observed by Jesus during His ministry (Jn. 5:1; 6:4; 12:1). If so, Jesus’ death came in 30 A.D. three years after His first Passover observance.”

Ogden also tells that a table reconstructing Passover dates for the years 27 to 34 A.D. appeared in the March 29, 1974 Christianity Today. According to historical sources A.D. 27 is too early and A.D. 34 is too late, so it must be between 28 and 33 inclusively. In A.D. 30 Passover (Nisan 14) fell on a Thursday according to that calendar. He also notes that A.D. 30 is the only year between 28 and 33 in which Passover falls on a Thursday.

At this point Ogden does not know for certain whether Jesus died on the 14th or 15th of Nisan, which correspond respectively to April 6 and 7, A.D. 30. But he is certain he has the right year.

The table that Ogden refers to is available online. It was compiled by Roger Rusk for the Christianity Today article titled “The Day He Died” that was mentioned by Ogden. A similar table has been published by the United States Naval Observatory. The USNO chart indicates that the full moon following the new moon after the spring equinox occurred on Thursday, April 6 in A.D. 30, following a March 22 new moon at 6:00 p.m. It seems to confirm Rusk’s chart.

Rusk is also certain that the year was A.D. 30. He also used reasoning similar to mine to conclude that Jesus died on the Thursday at 3:00 p.m. A Friday crucifixion would have Jesus making the journey from Galilee to Bethany on the Sabbath, which is exceedingly unlikely.

A Thursday crucifixion would allow Palm Sunday to be the 10th day of the Jewish month, making it the day Jews separated the Passover lambs from the herd. Doing the math and checking against astronomical calculations of new moons from A.D. 26 to A.D. 35 (the years of Pilate’s Governorship) he concludes the most likely date was April 6, A.D. 30.

As noted in the previous post, Jack W. Langford also used similar reasoning to arrive at a date of April 6, A.D. 30 in his Bible study (originally compiled in 1984) “Christ Our Passover: A Harmony of Events at the Death of Christ With the Annual Jewish Passover.” Not only does he harmonize the Passover lamb separation on the 10th with Jesus’ triumphal Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem, he also goes so far as to coordinate Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday morning during the Jewish priestly offering of the “wave sheaf” with the 7-week countdown to Pentecost Sunday.

It is good to know that this information has been available in print for up to four decades now. I was simply re-inventing the wheel with my own investigation.

Dating From the Fall of Jerusalem

A direction that some church historians have tried to work from is to count the time from the destruction of Jerusalem backward to Jesus’ death, based on some clues from history and the Babylonian Talmud.

On the 10th of August, in A.D. 70 — the 9th of Av — in Jewish reckoning, the very day on the Jewish calendar when the King of Babylon burned the Temple in 586 B.C., the Temple was burned again. Titus took the city and put it to the torch, burning the Temple.

According to the Babylonian Talmud, Mishna, Yoma 39a, four series of unusual events took place over the 40 years before the destruction of the Temple.

1 – The lot used to select the goat “for the Lord” for the ceremony of the Day of Atonement always came up in the left hand of the priest, and never the right hand. (Before this, during the leadership of a priest nicknamed Simeon the Righteous it had always come up in the right hand and never the left as in indicator of God’s blessing. After Simeon’s death and prior to the 40 years it alternated between left and right hands.)

2- The red thread or “strap” that had usually become white on the Day of Atonement during the leadership of Simeon the Righteous never became white again during the 40 years prior to the destruction. This apparently indicated God’s displeasure.

3 – The Temple doors, which normally would require 20 strong men to open or close, would swing open at random intervals for no apparent reason at the beginning of those 40 years, until a Rabbi rebuked them.

4 – A bright light that had begun appearing from the west at specific times during Simeon’s tenure never appeared again during that 40 year span until the Temple was destroyed.

If the Talmudic source is correct, Jesus’ death probably occurred about 40 years before the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., making 29 or 30 A.D. the most likely years that Jesus died. Note that the Day of Atonement prior to Jesus’ death would have had to be when the strange events began happening if A.D. 30 was the year of Jesus’ death. Nobody would have noticed anything strange until at least the second or third year.

In conclusion to this series, my analysis of the 3 days/3 nights of Jesus’ prophecy led me to the conclusion that Jesus was probably killed on a Thursday afternoon at about 3:00 p.m. If the Christianity Today Passover calendar by Rusk, and Ogden’s, Langford’s and my analyses are correct, Jesus died Thursday, April 6, 30 A.D. and rose from the dead just before dawn on Sunday, April 9, 30 A.D.

It is not necessary for salvation to know exactly when Jesus died. It does, however, enable me to confidently tell people that Jesus Christ was a real, living person who changed the world with a revolutionary life, death and resurrection.

Since Sunday, April 9, A.D. 30 Jesus has been alive and leading his church from his seat at the right hand of the God Father.

I am pretty confident that, just as his first coming, death and resurrection fulfilled many Old Testament types and prophecies already, his return will also fulfill any remaining biblical types and prophecies. I am completely confident that God knows exactly what he is doing.

He promises. He delivers.

When his work of saving is fully completed, he will be fully glorified.

And all of humanity will be in complete awe of our amazing God’s grace and justice.

Posted in Faith, gospel, Religion | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Did Jesus Die? – Part One

When it comes to spreading the gospel, a very important point that must be made is the historical truth of Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection. We need to believe that Jesus was truly a human being who was also the Son of God. For many modern people the whole “Son of God” part will be quite a stretch. It would help if we could at least establish that Jesus did live among us. While it is not necessary for salvation, it would be good to be able to at least give people some historical date from his life or ministry to establish his historical existence.

The eyewitness accounts in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke provide many details about how and where he was born, though no date as such. They are very specific, however about the timing of his death and resurrection.

He died on Passover Day (Nisan 14 of the Jewish calendar) at about 3:00 p.m. and was resurrected the following Sunday just before dawn. Translating that into a date and year on our modern Gregorian Calendar, on the other hand, is quite a challenge.

The commonly accepted date for Jesus’ death (at least at the start of the 20th Century) of Friday, April 3, 33 A.D. was based on the work of Dionysus Exiguus in the Sixth Century. It was later discovered that he miscalculated the date of Jesus birth by placing it four years after the death of Herod the Great. Since Herod the great attempted to kill Jesus as an infant, this is understandably problematic. (I have noted other problems with the December 25th date for Jesus birth in a previous post.)

An advantage to A.D. 33 is that Passover is on a Friday, which works according to the “Good Friday/Easter Sunday tradition we have been taught in churches around the world.

Since I was raised by wolves theologically I find that I have to check almost everything for myself so that I can at least have a logical reason for what I believe. (It may not always be correct, but hope it is at least logical.) To this end I tried to apply logic to various clues in the Gospels, early Christian writers and even a bit of more modern scholarship about when Jesus died.

This post will approach the question of when Jesus died from scriptural clues about which day of the week Jesus died, and a later post will attempt a historical reconstruction of the year of his death. Both will be based on scriptural clues tied to historical events.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the members of Wascana Fellowship for their sharp critique of my original presentation. By no means do all agree with my reconstruction of the events of that week. Their incisive comments forced me to tighten up and modify at some points the argument They also caused me to remove extraneous, confusing ideas from this presentation.

1. What Weekday did Jesus Die?

Theory 1: The traditional view that Jesus died on Friday – with Saturday as First Day of Unleavened Bread

Inconsistencies between this theory and the Gospel accounts:

  • You cannot fit three days & three nights into it as per Matt. 12:40. This objection is typically met with a statement to the effect that Jewish people at the time counted inclusively, that is, that even a part of a day counts as a day. Therefore part of Friday, all of Saturday and part of Sunday count as three days.
  • Jewish days are not counted primarily in hours but rather in dark/light cycles as per Gen. 1:5
  • Jewish days began when dusk turns to darkness, not at midnight.
  • Even if only parts of days are counted, you can only get the day portion of Friday, plus the night and day of Saturday plus most of the night portion of Sunday – effectively “2 days and 2 nights” instead of even parts of 3 days and three nights.
  • John 19:31 notes that the Sabbath in question is a “great Sabbath,” implying a feast day or annual Sabbath rather than a normal weekly Sabbath. Some posit that Saturday was also the First Day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread to get around this.
  • Another indicator that the week had two distinct Sabbaths is the plural form of “Sabbath” in the Greek version in Matthew 28:1, indicating that Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to the tomb after “the Sabbaths” had passed. It seems unlikely that two Sabbaths compressed into one day (annual and weekly) would be referred to in the plural. It is still just one Sabbath.

Theory 2: Jesus died Wednesday – with Thursday as First Day of Unleavened Bread.

Inconsistencies between this traditional Worldwide Church of God theory that Jesus doed on Wednesday afternoon and the Gospel accounts:

  • While this theory accounts for a full 72 hours, it leaves Jesus in the grave, alive, overnight (from before sunset on Saturday) before he is released near dawn on Sunday. Not impossible, but it seems to be a bit strange to leave Jesus “in the heart of the earth” for an extra half day.
  • Even if Jesus had been released from the grave before sunset on Saturday, we are not told where he was or what he was doing until the women met him in the predawn of Sunday.
  • Jewish days are not counted primarily in hours but rather in dark/light cycles as per Gen. 1:5. An insistence on a set number of hours is not necessarily a priority for people of that time.
  • It is apparently true according to the best scholarship available today that Jews of that time counted days inclusively, so a portion of a day or a portion of a night might well have been legitimately counted as a day or night respectively. This makes the insistence upon a full 72 hours less necessary than those who hold this view may think.
  • In addition to Jesus’ statement about being “3 days and three nights in the heart of the earth,” he also says he will rise “on the third day” as per Matt. 20:28; Mark 8:34; Luke 18:33. This implies that it could be somewhat less than a full 72 hours.
  • It only took Nicodemus about 3 hours at most to purchase and prepare 100 lbs. of spices in time for Jesus’ burial as per John 19:38-40. Even assuming the women only started preparations on the Friday between the annual Sabbath and the weekly Sabbath, why didn’t the women visit the grave in good time on Friday? I do not believe that it would take experienced women 12 hours to prepare a smaller quantity of spices than it would take men only 3 hours to prepare. (Unlike Nicodemus, Mary and Martha had even “practiced” on their brother Lazarus just days before according to John 11:21, 39-44.)
  • Luke 23:55-56 has the women following the Joseph and Nicodemus to see where they lay the body. They then went home to prepare the spices, but could not return before the “Sabbath.” There is no mention of a day in between following the men to the tomb and preparing their spices and ointments. This suggests that their preparation took place before dark on the day Jesus was buried. The earliest they could go was Sunday morning. Why not Friday morning?
  • As noted above, this particular week seems to have had two distinct Sabbaths, judging from the plural form of “Sabbath” in the Greek version of Matthew 28:1. Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to the tomb after “the Sabbaths” had passed. If they had been preparing spices all day Friday it would not have been necessary to indicate plural Sabbaths. They would have rested for only one Sabbath. It would make more sense to indicate a plural Sabbath if they had to wait for two Sabbaths back-to-back.
  • Even if one assumes that the spice preparation took place on Friday between the Thursday and Saturday Sabbaths, there is still no explanation as to why the women literally took all day to buy and prepare spices and ointments when Nicodemus bought and prepared a far greater quantity in less than three hours in time to bury Jesus on the day he died. They should have been able to get to the tomb on Friday if this theory were correct.

Proposal: What if Friday was First Day of Unleavened Bread?

  • Many commentators note that Jewish reckoning of time is inclusive, meaning that any portion of a day still counts as a day. Any portion of a night would also count as a night. Even so, his death on a Friday would count as too few days and too few nights.
  • Jesus mentions that he will be “in the heart of the earth” three days and three nights. This is the reverse of the normal sequence of night followed by day by which Jewish days are reckoned. Assuming a literal intent on Jesus’ part, the three-day countdown would probably start during the daylight portion of the first day. It would end during the night-time portion of Sunday. Given the 3 day/ 3 night promise of Jesus the most likely time of his death would have been Thursday at 3:00 p.m.
  • The daylight portion of Thursday would be the first day, followed by Thursday night as the first night.Dawn on Friday would have ended the first day, dawn on Saturday would have ended the second day and dawn on Sunday would end the third day.
  • This is how there can be three days and three nights, and yet Jesus can say that he will rise on the third day (less than 72 hours later).
  • It should be noted that the death sentence was delivered by the council before dawn of the day Jesus was crucified. He was handed over to the Gentiles first thing in the morning and the sentence was carried out the same morning. Jesus was on the cross well before noon. He was as good as dead the entire daylight portion of the first day.
  • Having Friday as the First day of Unleavened Bread also accounts for the inability of the women to go to the grave until Sunday morning. Having two Sabbaths in a row would prevent them from going to the grave for two days. Luke notes, as above, that at least some of the spices and ointments of the women were already prepared before dark on the day Jesus was buried.
  • If Luke and Mark are both correct, some of the spices were prepared on the day Jesus died, and the rest were bought and prepared “after the Sabbath.”
  • While Theory 2 presupposes that the Sabbath they prepared spices after was the annual Sabbath, this theory suggests that the remainder was bought after the weekly Sabbath ended at dark on Saturday. Spices were bought and preparations were finished Saturday night. The women then brought their spices to the grave site Sunday before dawn to start as early as possible before too much decomposition occurred.
  • As with Theory 2, this theory also explains why “after the Sabbath(s)” in Matthew 28:1 is pluralized in the Greek original. The women had to await two Sabbaths in a row to complete their mission to anoint Jesus for his death.

A further advantage to this theory is that it meshes quite well with another Old Testament type: setting apart the Passover lamb for special treatment on the 10th day of the first month, 4 days before the sacrifice, as per Exodus 12:1-6, 14. The Passover lamb was killed on the 14th of Nisan, after the lamb had been set apart on the 10th. They were to do this every year. If Jesus died on a Thursday, the Passover lambs would have been set apart on the previous Sunday.

We are told quite explicitly that Jesus arrived in Bethany from Galilee 6 days before Passover. Counting back from a Friday Passover, Jesus would have completed the long journey from Galilee with his disciples on the previous Sabbath (John 12:1). If Jesus’ disciples would not so much as prepare spices on the Sabbath, what is the likelihood is that he would have walked most of the day with his disciples on the Sabbath?

Counting back from Thursday, however, allows Jesus to arrive before the Sabbath, rest on the rest day (during the evening of which Mary anointed his feet), and be proclaimed Messiah on the Sunday we now refer to as Palm Sunday. In this scenario Palm Sunday also happens to occur on the 10th of the month – the very day the Passover lambs are set apart in preparation for the sacrifice.

I like the symmetry of Palm Sunday being the day that Jesus fulfils the type of the setting apart of the Passover Lamb.   The following two references are by people who arrived at the same conclusion long before I did. Their reasoning will differ at some points from mine.

Christ our Passover: A Harmony of the Events at the Death of Christ with the Annual Passover By Jack W. Langford. In 1984 he made the connections with the Friday Passover and Christ’s death on Thursday, as well as noting the Palm Sunday connection with the separation of the Passover lambs on the 10th day of the first month. He even gratuitously offers a section about the significance of Jesus’ resurrection at about the time of the Wave Sheaf offering! The timeline chart on page 33 is worth reviewing.

The Day He Died, by Roger Rusk, emeritus professor of physics at the University of Tennessee, where he taught from 1943 to 1971. This article appeared in Christianity Today, March 29, 1974 .After positing a Thursday execution of Jesus and making a timeline of the events he makes this summary statement: “In this chronology, all the time is accounted for, all the requirements of the Law governing the Passover are met, and all the types of the Passover Lamb are fulfilled.”

The following two references are by people who rejected specific years as the year of Jesus’ death precisely because they would have met my criteria for a Thursday crucifixion.

The Year of the Crucifixion – by Joseph F. Dumond 

Passover Dates for 30 A.D. and 31 A.D. by Frank W. Nelte.

It is my firm belief that the third theory best accounts for all the data about the day of the week of Jesus’ death. The next, related question needs to be answered next time to wrap it all up. What year did Jesus die?

Posted in Faith, gospel, Religion | Tagged , , | Leave a comment