The Sympathetic High Priest
Jesus, the Suffering Servant
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.1 Peter 3:18
During his ministry of three and one half years, our Redeemers life personified that of a suffering servant. His final hours in the flesh contained many examples of personal anguish, some of which included the inability of his disciples to remain awake while he prayed in Gethsemane, his betrayal by Judas, Peters denial, the all night buffetings and abuse endured during the civil and religious trials to which he was subjected, his need for assistance in bearing the cross to Golgotha because of diminished physical stamina, and the jeers and taunting he received while hanging on the cross during six hours of agony, anguish, thirst, and incessant pain.
Throughout his entire ministry, Jesus experienced much suffering, reproach, opposition and rejection, but he always bore these willingly and patiently as part of Gods will for him.
The sufferings of Christ commenced immediately after his baptism at the Jordan River when the spirit led him into the wilderness. Apparently the Lord was so absorbed in meditation, study, and prayer that he fasted forty days and forty nights, during which the Scriptures were opened to him and he received instruction and guidance from the heavenly Father. At the close of this period when Jesus was weakened and hungry, the devil presented three temptations in an attempt to ensnare him. In each instance he resisted the adversary and subsequently was ministered to by the angels (Matthew 4:2-11). The Master proved victorious in his initial series of trials.
As the heavenly Fathers servant, he taught the Jews from the Scriptures with a view to preparing them as a nation to inherit the special promises of the high calling as part of Abrahams spiritual seed. Although wondrous words proceeded from his mouth, his enemies rejected his authority. On one occasion after he spoke in the synagogue it is recorded, And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he passing through the midst of them went his way (Luke 4:28-30). Such hardness of heart against Jesus when he was presenting the good news of the kingdom for their benefit was part of the contradiction of sinners that he endured (Hebrews 12:3).
Reviled by the Leaders
During his ministry he performed several miracles to relieve the afflictions of many individuals. These good works instead of being applauded by the Pharisees brought expressions of disapproval and condemnation: And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other. And the Pharisees went forth, and straightway took counsel with the Herodians against him, how they might destroy him (Mark 3:1-6).
The chief Priests and the scribes attempted to have Jesus make a statement that would have potentially dangerous implications. They posed the question as to whether or not it would be lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, reasoning if he said no, it would be an act of rebellion against the Roman government and provide grounds to have charges pressed against him. On the other hand, if he said yes, it would alienate many of the common people who detested the payment of tribute to the Romans and whose support he had gained through his marvelous works. Our Lord exposed their hypocrisy by his response that noted the appropriateness of being subject to the powers that be, as long as it did not conflict with allegiance and loyalty to the heavenly Father (Luke 20:19-25). How patiently he endured such nefarious scheming by his opponents. Would that all of Christs followers adopt such a sage approach when dealing with their adversaries.
The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection and also sought to discredit the Master by posing a riddle concerning a woman whose husband died, and who in turn married each of his six brothers one after the other as each died. Finally the woman also died. Jesus was asked whose wife the woman would be in the resurrection. Again, the Master silenced his antagonists by declaring that the resurrection will awaken mankind from the tomb, but since the need for filling the earth with humanity no longer will exist, propagation of the race will cease as will the institution of marriage (Luke 20:27-33).
Another attack upon his character related to his casting out a demon from a victim who was mute. Despite this wonderful miracle, some of Christs opponents attributed his ability to cast out the evil spirit by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Not only would it be absurd to suppose that Satan was opposing his own underlings by using his power to cast them out, but additionally, other Jews cast out devils, too. Whatever source of power Jesus utilized would also be employed by others engaged in this work. Since there was no condemnation of anyone else for performing the same act, it was another example of unjust treatment the Master had to endure (Luke 11:14-20).
The doing of his Fathers will caused Jesus to be totally consumed and physically spent. Day after day he walked upon dusty roads preaching, teaching, healing, and enduring the opposition of sinners. An aspect of his suffering to be considered was the weariness caused by such a demanding regimen.
And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head (Matthew 8:19,20). Here the Lords answer stressed the concept of self-denial that is required to be pleasing to God. He had no permanent residence of his own at which to rest during his public ministry although he was a welcome guest at various homes. An additional thought in this connection was that Jesus always went about doing his Fathers business and would not cease until he uttered those final words from the cross, It is finished.
Special Trials of a Perfect Man
In a discourse entitled The Highest Motive Bro. Benjamin Barton addresses Jesus sufferings by noting how his perfect sense of taste must have been offended by eating imperfect foods prepared by his hosts, but because he loved to proclaim Gods word to them, he gladly endured this unpleasantness. Bro. Barton then continues: Think what it must have been with our Savior, living as he did in those eastern cities, with narrow and uncleanly streets! Travelers from Europe have so frequently spoken of the filthy condition in those cities. Then how must a man with a perfect smell endure it! Think what that cost our Savior! Then think how his perfect hearing would enable him to hear more unpleasant noises, and his perfect sight enable him to see more the disagreeable things than any of the rest of us. And then his perfect mind and perfect being enabled him to suffer to an extent the rest of us could not. He could know more intimately indeed what the human race was going through than any of the rest of the race possibly could. But in addition to this, we realize his pre-existence added to his suffering. You and I have never known anything better than this. If we had ever lived under better conditions in a better world, and then had to come here, how much more trying, how much more unpleasant it would be than it is at the present time. So, dear friends, think what it cost our Saviour. He had never had his word doubted in heaven; he had never been mistreated there; he had never been unkindly dealt with during all those ages he had spent with the Father. Think what our Savior suffered in coming down to this earth!Pilgrim Echoes, p. 139.
Other evidences of our Lords suffering are described in Old Testament prophecy: He was despised and rejected and forsaken by men, a man of sorrows and pains, and acquainted with grief and sickness; and like one from whom men hid their faces he was despised, and we did not appreciate his worth or have any esteem for him. Surely he has borne our griefs (sicknesses, weaknesses, and distresses) and carried our sorrows and pains (of punishment), yet we (ignorantly) considered him stricken, smitten and afflicted by God (as if with leprosy). But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our guilt and iniquities; the chastisement (needful to obtain) peace and well-being for us was upon him, and with the stripes (that wounded) him we are healed and made whole. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has made to light upon him the guilt and iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, (yet when) he was afflicted, he was submissive and opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth (Isaiah 53:3-7, The Amplified Bible).
A Sympathetic Priest
Our Lord was a man of sorrows not because of any deficiency in his being, but because of his perfection he could sympathize deeply with fallen humanity that he observed. His perfect sensibilities enabled him to enter into the sorrows of the poor groaning and dying world of mankind. On many occasions during his ministry he gave of his own vitality to heal those who were afflicted, thereby refreshing and restoring them at the cost of his own personal strength: And he came down with them, and stood in the plain, and the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judaea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases; and they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all (Luke 6:17-19). Given our Lords intimate relationship with God and the affirmation of how much the Father loved him (John 17:25,26), it would be logical to inquire why the Creator permitted his son to undergo such tribulation in the flesh, especially since his death as a perfect man would provide the ransom price to bring back Adam and all of his race from the grave. During a walk on the road to Emmaus with two of his disciples the risen Lord commented on this very matter: Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).
Among the matters referred to in the writings of Moses, one of them undoubtedly related to the atonement day sacrifices. The bullock for the sin offering (Leviticus 16:11), was for Aaron and his house. The blood was not applied for the sins of the people, but for the sins of the high priest and his house. Antitypically, since Jesus had no sin, he presented the merit of his sacrifice not for himself but for his body or family, the church (Hebrews 9:24). The imputation of this merit was the basis for the churchs justification (Romans 8:1-4). This merit passes through the church and will ultimately be applied for Adam and the entire human race when mankind is awakened from the tomb (John 5:25). The blood from the Lords goat for the sin offering was applied on behalf of the people as noted in Leviticus 16:15. Christs merit alone gave the church a standing with God. In reality, the blood of the antitypical Lords goat, or the church, belongs to Christ and he has been offering the church as a part of his own sacrifice throughout the Gospel age.
The knowledge that the church is counted in as part of Christs sacrifice and participates in his sufferings, to qualify as a part of the Mediator to help reconcile mankind back to the Father, should be awe inspiring. This fact gives special meaning to various Scriptures regarding the churchs share in the sin offering, based upon the efficacy of Jesus precious blood.
This is one such passage: Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his bodys sake, which is the church (Colossians 1:24). Let us more fully appreciate the unfathomable love of God in giving his son to be a ransom for all, and the magnificent sacrifice Christ made in faithfully pouring out his soul unto death for his bride and for the whole world of mankind.
Mens hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.Luke 21:26
September 11, 2001 changed the world in which we live. Fears have risen dramatically. Mankind has been brought harshly to the awareness of the ever-present threat of terrorism. These fears in turn have provoked uncertainties in every sector of society.
Shifting sands of changing political coalitions have blurred the distinctions between friend and foe. Scandals have shaken not only the Roman Catholic church, but many Protestant denominations as well. Economic advances of a decade of prosperity have vanished overnight. Corporate giants have plummeted into bankruptcy. Accountants, appointed as watchdogs over big business, have covered up questionable financial transactions. The consumer confidence index has dangled precipitously over the brink. The world is facing a crisis of confidence.
The rules of warfare have been changed. The fight against terrorism is a conflict against a hidden enemy. Traditional battles between one national armada against another have evolved into guerilla fighting within a country, precision strikes by small bands of terrorists who know no national boundaries. Carefully planned and executed assaults have taken thousands of lives.
The collapse of the World Trade Center and the coordinated crashing of a jet plane into the Pentagon prompted President George Bush to declare a War on Terrorism. Along with a wide-ranging coalition of partners these allied forces launched a fearful reprisal on Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network of terrorists sheltered by the Taliban regime of Afghanistan and other fundamentalist Islamic states.
The reaction to the September 11 attacks, in the United States at least, has included a tightening of immigration policies and large-scale arrests and detentions of people particularly those of Arabian descent. Many are being held for indefinite terms without being charged and without having their names released. This has raised a debate as to whether constitutional civil rights are being eroded.
Fears are fueled even further by concerns over future tactics of terrorists who may employ biological or even nuclear devices. The anthrax mailings have created worries about the safety of water supplies, air-borne pollutants, or attacks on nuclear power plants.
The Axis of Evil
In his State of the Union address, President Bush identified three countriesIraq, Iran and North Koreaas an axis of evil. This has been followed by an active debate, not only in America but throughout the world, of a possible pre-emptive and unilateral strike by the United States on Iraq, with the stated aim of removing Saddam Hussein from his position of power in that country.
Voices raised in favor of such an invasion see Iraq as a developer of chemical, biological, and nuclear arms for terrorist use against both Israel and America. Opposition voices fear the political, moral, and economic consequences of one nation unilaterally attacking another sovereign country. A major side effect of this debate has been concerns over the United States assuming too much arbitrary authority without obtaining a mandate from the United Nations.
Terrorism and Drugs
One of the evil phenomena of the past century has been the rapid increase in the traffic of illicit drugs. So-called recreational drugs have been added to their twin counterparts of tobacco and alcohol. Together they have wreaked a fearsome toll on the health of mankind. Sexual promiscuity has unleashed a worldwide epidemic of AIDS. In addition to the cost of human life and physical well-being, the health care cost of treating those who are sick is staggering.
These have not only posed an epidemic health risk but have created vast economic empires. The billions of dollars reaped by the drug lords are being increasingly diverted into the arming of terrorists. While nations, seeking to arm themselves, can raise taxes to pay for their armaments, terrorists do not have that option. They must resort to criminal methods to finance their supply of weaponry. Drug trafficking is only one of their options.
Giddy from the halcyon days of the last decade, investors in the worlds stock markets were lured into a belief that double-digit percentage growth would go on forever. Trillions of dollars have evaporated into thin air as the S&P 500 index on the New York Stock Exchange has plunged 40% from its peak set in March 2000; the NASDAQ index is down more than 70% (as of the close Jan. 13, 2003).
As greed and corruption at the highest levels of the corporate world and imaginative accounting practices were exposed, confidence in the integrity of big business plummeted along with the markets. Despite assurances that the economy is fundamentally strong, this lack of confidence has greatly delayed a recovery.
Added to these factors, fear of more terrorist attacks, unstable conditions in the Middle East and many other parts of the globe, and the increasing threat of greater armed conflicts against countries that aid terrorism, have added to the uncertainty about future world conditions.
The Religious World
A crisis of another type has rocked the religious world, eroding even further a fading confidence in the purity of the clergy. Sexual abuse scandals have been exposed among the priesthood, particularly in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Investigative reporting has revealed an extensive pattern of mistreatment of the youth committed to their care extending back over a period of decades. Adding to the problem has been the discovery of systematic cover-ups and the reassignment of offending priests to other positions where they have continued to exploit the young.
Political activism on both the right and left has further divided the adherents of Christianity. Involvement in such causes has diluted the message of the pulpit from an examination of Scriptural passages to conflicting statements in the political and social arenas.
Weighed in the Balances
Other great civilizations have fallen under similar pressures. Lack of confidence in the Roman Empire led to a profligate living style and its ultimate collapse. Karl Marx in Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852) points to the same conditions that led to the French Revolution. In like manner Babylon, the first of the great world empires, also succumbed. The Bible records the last night of that mighty kingdom. It describes a riotous feast of King Belshazzar which was startlingly interrupted by a mysterious hand writing four Chaldaic words on the wall: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. The prophet Daniel interpreted the meaning in part: Thou art weighed in the balances and found wanting (Daniel 5:27).
How appropriate these words are today! People are increasingly losing their confidence in the organized pillars of societypolitical, social, financial, and religious. The desire for stable societal institutions coupled with disillusionment with the realities, leads to frustration and hopelessness.
Jesus stated the matter well: And there shall be upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring (Luke 21:25). Vines Dictionary gives the meaning of perplexity as at a loss for a way finding no solution to their embarrassment. Vine proceeds to show that the usage in the papyri is being at wits end, at a loss to proceed, without resources. In short, the word means a situation where there seems to be no way out. How accurately this describes the quandaries that the leaders of this world face.
The next verse in Luke speaks of God shaking the heavens and the earth. The apostle Paul speaks of this shaking in Hebrews 12:26,27, where he compares it with the earthquake that shook Mt. Sinai when Moses received the divine law: Whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
Peter speaks of the same events: The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up (2 Peter 3:10).
In the book of Revelation we read of two great symbolic earthquakes in the end time. One happens during the sixth seal in the time preceding the Lords second advent. This is described both in Revelation 6:12 and again in Revelation 11:13. Many Bible Students identify this with the French Revolution of 1789 with its after-shocks continuing to the revolutions of 1829-30 that swept Europe.
But this earthquake is only a forerunner of a far greater seismic event described under the seventh plague of Revelation 16:18, And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great.
There are many symbols used to describe this conflagration: a whirlwind, fire, a storm, hail, etc. Each metaphor emphasizes a particular aspect of the trouble. The picture of an earthquake calls attention to the aspect of a social revolution. As the friction between two tectonic plates causes a natural quake, so revolts among men are caused by abrasive contact between two conflicting classes of mankind, in this case the haves and the have-nots, the privileged versus those in the lower economic strata. The under crust, the lower economic classes, thrust upwards in search for more favorable conditions.
The objective of this great earthquake is that everything that can be shaken will be shaken. That which remains is enduring and can be utilized in the new social structure which will replace the present religious and social orders, the new heavens and new earth. As Paul concludes, Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear (Hebrews 12:28). Peter, in a similar vein, gives the positive effects such knowledge of the present approaching end should have in our lives: Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness (2 Peter 3:11).
Islam, Israel, and Christianity
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world, mainly through a high birth rate. This table, prepared by The Canadian Society of Muslims, shows that the Muslim proportion of world population is projected to increase to 30% by 2025 making it the religion with the largest number of adherents; the Christian percentage decreases to 25% by 2025.
While many followers of Mohammedanism believe in peaceful coexistence with their non-Islam neighbors, many fundamentalist Muslims do not. They believe it is their religious duty to convert the world to their religion, either by persuasion or by the sword. Their militancy is further heightened by hostility toward Israel, which they see as encroaching on their territory, both by the creation of the Jewish state and even more by their perception of Israelis occupying Palestinian land as a result of the 1967 and 1973 wars.
Anger toward Israel has created animosity toward those who support Israel, particularly the United States. Lacking the political and military might to reclaim Israeli land or, as many of them desire, drive Israel into the sea, they have resorted to guerilla and terrorist tactics. These have included the use of suicide bombers who have claimed hundreds of Israeli lives and provoked retaliatory strikes that have taken even more Palestinian lives.
The net effect has been to move the hands of the doomsday clock ever nearer to the fateful midnight hour. Mankinds confidence in world peace and stability is further eroded.
Most Christians have feelings of sympathy with Israel, recognizing that they have a rich heritage as Gods chosen people. The Bible, too, honors that people with not only historic recognition in Old Testament times, but with a prophetic inheritance. Prophecies predict a future role of Israel in the kingdom for which all Christians pray: Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
The promise God made to Abraham to bless his seed is sure of fulfillment. The principle that I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed (Genesis 12:3) is equally guaranteed.
Israel has a promised land (Genesis 15:18-21) which they as yet only partially occupy. But before they possess all this territory the Scriptures indicate they will need to go through one more war (described in Ezekiel 38 and 39). Their opponents are listed in Ezekiel 38:3-8 and comprise mostly Mohammedan nations. Therefore it is not surprising that strong hostility now exists on the part of the Islamic countries against Israel. This indicates a nearness of this final battle before Messiahs kingdom with its better days can be established.
The Source of Confidence
Mans extremity is Gods opportunity. The lack of confidence in all phases of organized society is understandable and well founded. Christians share this lack of confidence in the ability of man to find solutions to all the complex problems of todays world. But the Christian has unbounded confidence that these same events portend the final transition from this present evil world (Galatians 1:4) to the new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).
Violence and wrath may well be the hallmarks of our day, but we are assured that surely the wrath of man shall praise thee, the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain (Psalm 76:10). With eager anticipation and full confidence in God we await that kingdom.