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The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (9)

As we have seen, God sent prophets to the Jewish people for centuries. But the Jews expected a Last Prophet who would bring prophecy to an end and usher in the era of the Messiah.

People began to believe that Jesus Christ was the last prophet because of his words and deeds. Christ was one who spoke with authority.

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock. (Mt 7:24)

And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching! With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” (Mk 1:27)

When the Old Testament prophets spoke they would say what God wanted to say and finish up with “thus says the Lord”. This is to show that the prophet was delivering God’s message, not his own. But when Jesus Christ spoke he said “Amen. Amen, I say to you.” In other words, Christ is speaking with his own authority, not relaying someone else’s words.

But what really made people think that Jesus Christ was the Last Prophet was his feeding the 5000 in the wilderness. When people saw this they said,

“…”This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!” (Jn 6:14)

But the Old Testament prophets did not know that the Last Prophet was the Son of God. Christ no only spoke God’s words, He is God’s Word incarnate.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (Jn 1:1-4,14)

But of course at the “end of times” when Jesus Christ comes to establish His kingdom, prophecy will cease. That is because Jesus will be present in all His glory. All prophecy will be fulfilled.

But not only that, we will become partakers of the divine nature.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)

This does not mean that we will become God, but just as Jesus Christ is God by nature, we will become sons and daughters though grace.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (8C)

However, as was mentioned above the Bible is not only about future events. Biblical prophets were sent by God to announce His will for His people. For example, when the Hebrews strayed from God’s will by oppressing the poor, worshipping false gods or marrying foreign women God would send a prophet to condemn this kind of behavior. For example Jeremiah 23:1,10-15. Jeremiah foretold the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the carrying away of the Jewish people to Babylon. Jeremiah is condemning the failure of some of the Jewish people.

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” says the Lord. For the land is full of adulterers; because of the curse the land mourns, and the pastures of the wilderness are dried up. Their course is evil, and their might is not right. “Both prophet and priest are ungodly; even in my house I have found their wickedness, says the Lord. Therefore their way shall be to them like slippery paths in the darkness, into which they shall be driven and fall; for I will bring evil upon them in the year of their punishment, says the Lord. In the prophets of Sama’ria I saw an unsavory thing: they prophesied by Ba’al and led my people Israel astray. But in the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: they commit adultery and walk in lies; they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his wickedness; all of them have become like Sodom to me, and its inhabitants like Gomor’rah.” Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets: “Behold, I will feed them with wormwood, and give them poisoned water to drink; for from the prophets of Jerusalem ungodliness has gone forth into all the land.”

This is a strong condemnation of the Hebrews behavior.

Or Hosea 7:1-5. In the Book of Hosea, the prophet condemns injustice and misbehavior on the part of some of the Jewish people. He prophesies Israel’s coming punishments, but also God’s love and compassion.

When I would heal Israel, the corruption of E’phraim is revealed, and the wicked deeds of Sama’ria; for they deal falsely, the thief breaks in, and the bandits raid without. But they do not consider that I remember all their evil works. Now their deeds encompass them, they are before my face. By their wickedness they make the king glad, and the princes by their treachery. They are all adulterers; they are like a heated oven, whose baker ceases to stir the fire, from the kneading of the dough until it is leavened. On the day of our king the princes became sick with the heat of wine; he stretched out his hand with mockers.

There are many such passages with God condemning the bad behavior the Israelites through the voice of his prophets. On the other hand God sent out prophets to comfort the Jewish people in times of trouble. The Book of Isaiah was compiled over a long period of time from before the Assyrian captivity of the Northern Kingdom until several years after it. It shows that God condemns His people’s misbehavior and the punishment which follows but also God’s lover and final redemption of His people. The following texts refer to this love and redemption. For example, Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 or Isaiah 54:7-8, 10, 13-15.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms, he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11

 Upon a high and lofty mountain you have set your bed, and thither you went up to offer sacrifice. Behind the door and the doorpost you have set up your symbol; for, deserting me, you have uncovered your bed, you have gone up to it, you have made it wide; and you have made a bargain for yourself with them, you have loved their bed, you have looked on nakedness. You were wearied with the length of your way, but you did not say, “It is hopeless”; you found new life for your strength, and so you were not faint. When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you! The wind will carry them off, a breath will take them away. But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land, and shall inherit my holy mountain. And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.” For thus says the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 54:7-8, 10, 13-15.

 Ultimately, the prophecies in the Old Testament are on the one had God’s word to His people in specific situations, on the other hand there have a timeless message especially as they point to Jesus Christ. We will see how they are fulfilled in the next article.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (8B)

In the Gospels we read that Christ dying on the cross he said “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” Sometimes people think that these are just words reflecting Christ’s sense of abandonment. Some even say that Jesus had lost his faith in his Father. But this is not true. On the one hand Jesus Christ is a genuine human being. Because of this He truly experienced the horrific pain of dying on the cross. On the other hand, He is the Son of God. Because of this He would never lose faith in his loving Father, with whom He is always in contact. However, these words are the beginning of Psalm 22 expressing a deeper meaning. When we read Psalm 22, verses 1-22 we see how well these verses apply to Christ. There is something else which we should understand. To the Jewish way of thinking, when one begins to read a psalm the intention is to finish it even if one could not finish it. So Christ’s beginning words about being forsaken implies the last verses about God’s victory. It is important to read this whole psalm, but to make the argument clear let us look at a few verses from Psalm 22:

Verse 1 – This reflects Christ’s suffering

Verse 18 – The soldiers gamble to win Christ’s garment

Verses 26-28 – This speaks about God’s and hence, Christ’s ultimate victory

 

But we read further in the Psalm we see that it’s not a cry of utter despair, but rather of a prayer in praise of God (22:22-31)

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? [2] O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest. [3] Yet thou art holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. [4] In thee our fathers trusted; they trusted, and thou didst deliver them. [5] To thee they cried, and were saved; in thee they trusted, and were not disappointed. [6] But I am a worm, and no man; scorned by men, and despised by the people. [7] All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads; [8] “He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” [9] Yet thou art he who took me from the womb; thou didst keep me safe upon my mother’s breasts. [10] Upon thee was I cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me thou hast been my God. [11] Be not far from me, for trouble is near and there is none to help. [12] Many bulls encompass me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; [13] they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. [14] I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax, it is melted within my breast; [15] my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; thou dost lay me in the dust of death. [16] Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet — [17] I can count all my bones — they stare and gloat over me; [18] they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots. [19] But thou, O Lord, be not far off! O thou my help, hasten to my aid! [20] Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! [21] Save me from the mouth of the lion, my afflicted soul from the horns of the wild oxen! [22] I will tell of thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee: [23] You who fear the Lord, praise him! all you sons of Jacob, glorify him,  and stand in awe of him, all you sons of Israel! [24] For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; and he has not hid his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. [25] From thee comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him. [26] The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever! [27] All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.

[28] For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. [29] Yea, to him shall all the proud of the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and he who cannot keep himself alive. [30] Posterity shall serve him; men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation, [31] and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, that he has wrought it. (Psalm 22)

In other words, this Old Testament psalm clearly points to Christ’s suffering on the cross, but also to his victory. Of course, when Jewish people read these and other similar passages, they do not think of it as applying to the Messiah. For them the idea that the Messiah suffered would be repugnant. It is only when we read the Old Testament with Christian eyes that we see the true meaning.

In fact, this is one reason to believe the resurrection accounts are true. The apostles were all Jews, so they would never think of the Messiah dying on the cross. If one asks a contemporary Jew about this, he would say the same thing.

But others say that the pagans, the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians had the idea of a dying and rising god. But when we look at their myths more closely, they were usually about a god who died in the winter and rose in the spring. They did not consider these gods to be recently dead men, but rather they believed this was all done in some mystical time. They would never think that their rising and dying god was a recently executed Jewish criminal. In addition, their god never became truly human, that their god was born, lived, died, arose again in genuine human being. For the pagans the human body was something vile, to be escaped from. For pagans, life as an immortal resurrection body would be a kind of hell. But God indeed became an embodies human being in order to raise all embodies humans with him for eternal glory.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (8A)

Many people are interested in prophecy. They want to know their own future and the future of the whole world, so they go to fortune tellers, psychics, card readers, etc. But the Bible forbids us to go to such people.

“You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not practice augury or witchcraft. (Lev 19:26)

“Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God. (Lev 19:31)

And when they say to you, “Consult the mediums and the wizards who chirp and mutter,” should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? (Is 8:119)

 

Consulting psychics, astrologers, etc. shows a lack of trust in God. Our fate, so to speak, is in the hands of a loving God. This is all we need to know.

One perennial curiosity is who or what is the Antichrist. This figure appears in many parts of the New Testament. His coming heralds the end times in which Christ will come again, destroy the Antichrist and establish His kingdom. Throughout Christian history people looked at the Bible to find out when the second coming will be. Even the Apostles wanted to know this. But we see how Christ responds to the question about the end of the world.

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. (Acts 1:6-7)

Christ then ascends into heaven. But Christ’s answer has never satisfied people’s curiosity about the end and so many people have used the Bible, especially the Book of Daniel, in the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, to identify the Antichrist and determine when Christ will come again.

Throughout Christian history many evil rulers have been called the Antichrist: Emperor Nero, Emperor Diocletian, Genghis Khan, Atilla the Hun, Hitler, Stalin and many others. But Christ’s response to the Apostles question shows us that we will never know the date of the Second Coming. To show how foolish this kind of curiosity is the writer of this article refers to a book he was shown as a seminarian. It was an old book printed early in the nineteenth century “proving” that Napoleon was the Antichrist and the Second Coming was imminent. The author of this book searched the Bible for verses which seem to refer to Napoleon. For us, this may seem silly. We know that Napoleon was not the Antichrist. The point here is that the Bible is not a fortune telling book. But none of this is prophecy in the Biblical sense.

Of course, the Old Testament prophets pointed forward to the coming of the Messiah. Some of the prophecies were uncannily close to what actually occurred. For example the book of Isaiah  has some hymns or songs about the Suffering Servant. Jews would not think that these verses about suffering could be applied to the Messiah. For them a suffering Messiah is a contradiction in terms. For them the Messiah was a victorious king so to speak. Some Jews think that these words apply to the state of Israel. In other words, the suffering servant texts refer to the Jewish people, over the centuries. Out of this suffering came the nation of Israel.. But we see how these words apply to Jesus Christ.

Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground;

he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken,

smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way;

and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,

yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief;

when he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53)

This is just an example. In the Book of Isaiah there are many other servant songs which we, as Christians, understand as applying to Jesus.

Fr. John

The Orthodox Faith – Salvation History (7)

As we have seen earlier, sacrifice is an important aspect of religion. Throughout the history of humanity sacrifice is found in many religions, in many places in the world. Sacrifice comes naturally to human beings to the point that live human sacrifice was practiced. The idea is that we offer something valuable to God. In the Old Testament and in the beginning of the New Testament, parents had to offer a sacrifice for their first born son. Because Mary and Joseph were poor, they could only afford to offer two turtledoves rather than sheep or goats.

“And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”(Luke 2:21-23)

We may want to say that we are sorry to God or to ask God to heal our illnesses or to protect our country from attack or many other reasons.

All of this is true. When we read the Old Testament, we see precise details about how to perform sacrifice for different reasons and so on. The Old Testament sacrifice was ordered by God, but the sacrifice of sheep or goats could only have a limited efficacy. Something more was needed and that something was Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament, especially in the Letter to the Hebrews, the author tells us the many different ways Christ is the true sacrifice. Here are some quotes.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Heb 9:11-14)

For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Heb 9:24-28)

Christ is the perfect priest and the perfect sacrifice. Christ is the offering and the offered. As the priest prays in the Divine Liturgy “Thou (i.e., Christ) didst become man, yet without change or alteration and as Ruler of All didst commit to us this liturgical and bloodless sacrifice. … For Thou art the offering and the offered, the Receiver and the Received.”

The idea here is that Jesus Christ is acting through our offering of bread and wine which will become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Christ offers, Christ receives. So we see that Jesus Christ is the one perfect sacrifice fulfilling all the sacrifices of the Old Testament and indeed, of all sacrifices no matter wherever they are found. Sins are forgiven, and humanity attains union with God.

Fr. John