Matt.27:46 could be translated 'My God, how hast Thou forsaken me!'; remember that there are no punctuation marks in the original Greek manuscript; those we have are inserted by the translators. If we accept this equally permissible translation, the problem disappears. If Jesus died, it would be obvious that he would have felt forsaken by God; God may 'leave' us to see how we will cope with a trial. It does not necessarily show His rejection of us. Thus of Hezekiah we read " In the business of the ambassadors...God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart" (2 Chron.32:31). The original Hebrew word translated " left" here is also frequently translated " forsake" . As Hezekiah was " left" or 'forsaken' by God to prove how strong his spirituality really was, so Jesus was 'forsaken' on the cross, so that God could see what was in his heart.
Jesus was actually quoting from the prophesied words of Messiah in Ps.22:1. This shows that there was no indication of weakness on His uttering those words, and the fact he was quoting from the Psalms shows that he was not speaking those words due to surprise at being faced with death. We have shown elsewhere how many passages indicate that Messiah would have to die. Therefore Jesus did expect to die, which is abundantly proved by even a cursory glance at the New Testament: Matt.16:21,27; 19:28; 20:18,19; 26:27-29,31,32,64.
Jesus said that he had come not to destroy the Law but to fulfil it (Matt.5:17). The Greek for " destroy" here means strictly to unloose or start to disintegrate. He fulfilled the law in his death as the perfect sacrifice on the cross, but until then he never advocated the unloosing or negating of even the smallest commandment: " One jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all (i.e. of the law) be fulfilled" (Matt.5:18). However, His speaking of fulfilling the law implies that the Law was a prophecy which he was soon to fulfil. Therefore there would be no point in continuing to try to keep the law if its object was now fulfilled.
Paul's objection was to Gentiles being saddled with the ceremonial (but not the moral) aspects of the Mosaic Law. It should be noted that no words of Paul are cited in Acts 15. Paul did keep parts of the Law (e.g. Acts 21:20-25), but this seems to have been to placate some of the early Jewish Christians whose consciences were weak. He quite clearly teaches that the Old Covenant laws have been done away (Col.2:13-16), and that through association with Christ there is no spiritual difference between Jews and Gentiles (Gal.3:27-29) - they are under the same covenant and therefore have the same responsibilities of service towards God.
The spirit of the Law was one of love and self-subjugation. It did not teach that in private life one should actively resist evil. Christ's law is intended for individuals, whereas some of the injunctions of the Old Covenant were for the whole nation of Israel. Nationally, Israel were never told that once settled in the land they ought to resist evil. They were promised that if they were obedient, then God would look after them from any evil that might be ranged against them. There are many examples of people not resisting evil in Old Testament times - e.g. David's attitude to Saul and to his family later; Joseph's passive submission to the evil of his brethren and willing forgiveness of them. Thus in their individual lives, Jews under the Old Covenant did practice Jesus' policy of non resistance to evil, and his teaching about this summed up the spirit of the Old Covenant.
Once the idea of two comings of Messiah is appreciated (see comments on Zech.9:9 regarding this), such apparent contradictions fall into place. If Messiah was to die and be persecuted at his first coming and then return to establish the Messianic Kingdom of peace at his second coming, then it is to be expected that those who accepted him at his first coming would be at variance with those who rejected and persecuted him. If they persecuted him, they would persecute those who accepted him too. Therefore to accept him would result in a certain degree of division within Israel, to whom Jesus was primarily talking in the verses cited.
It is hard to believe that such a conclusion could be drawn by someone who had read the New Testament only once. Paul called himself " the apostle of the Gentiles...a teacher of the Gentiles" (Rom.11:13; 2 Tim.1:11); and Jesus gave his followers the great commission of preaching the good news about Him worldwide (Mark 16:15), having earlier stated that whoever heard them effectively heard him. Isaiah 49 describes the depression of Messiah at the failure of Israel to respond to his preaching, but he is encouraged by God telling him that due to this he has been given as a light to the Gentiles. Jesus must have been aware of this, seeing that he often hinted at the future response of the Gentiles to his message (John 10:16; Acts 1:8; 9:15). However, it is true that the general principle of New Testament preaching was to appeal to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46; 18:4-6; 26:20; 28:23-28). The fact that Christianity is a worldwide religion shows that Christ certainly has been preached to the utmost ends of the earth.
Jesus' statement that some of those with him would live to see him coming in his Kingdom occurs immediately before the record of his transfiguration. It seems fair to conclude that he was referring to this when he spoke of 'coming in his kingdom'. " Coming" would have been a familiar Old Testament idiom for some form of manifestation - e.g. God " came down" to see the tower of Babel and Sodom, but this does not necessitate a literal coming of God in terms of physical movement. The vision which the disciples saw at the transfiguration was of Jesus in glory, with his face shining brighter than the sun and with dazzling white clothes. This would have taken their minds back to the visions of glory of the Old Testament and the description of Messiah in his Kingdom as " the sun of righteousness" (Mal.4:2), making them realize that Jesus of Nazareth really was the Lord of glory, the supreme manifestation of God Himself, and this was how he would be revealed in the day of his Kingdom (Matt.17:2 cp. Dan.10:5,6; 7:9).
Matt.24:34 says that the generation who sees the sign Jesus had just described of the fig tree putting out leaves would not pass until all was fulfilled. He was not necessarily speaking of the generation that were then present. The fig tree being either barren or fruitful is a symbol of Israel's spiritual state (Hab.3:17,18; Jer.24:2-5; Mic.7:1-4; Hos.9:10; Is.30:17; Joel 2:22). Jesus prophesied that the Jewish tree was to dry up after his death, i.e. spiritually wither (Luke 23:31). Therefore he was not speaking of the tree's bearing of leaves being in the time of that immediate generation that heard his words. However, he knew that eventually they would repent, and the generation which saw that would also see His return to establish the Kingdom. This is in line with the many Old Testament prophecies that speak of Jewish repentance (i.e. spiritual fruit) before the revealing of Messiah to them.
The nature of God is fundamental to appreciate if we are to have any true understanding of what Bible based religion is all about. The Old Testament consistently talks of God as if He is a person; the person to person relationship with God which both Old and New Testaments speak of is unique to the true Jewish hope. It was largely through the influence of Maimonides in the twelfth century that the concept of a non-personal God became popular in Judaism; Biblically this is not even hinted at in the Old Testament scriptures. The following are strong arguments in favour of a personal, corporeal God:
- " God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness" (Gen.1:26). Thus man is made in the image and likeness of God, as manifested through the Angels. These words cannot apply to man's mental image, because by nature our minds are totally distanced from God and in many ways fundamentally opposed to His righteousness. " For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa.55:8,9). Therefore the image and likeness which we share with God must be in physical image. Whenever Angels have been seen on earth they are described as having the form of men - e.g. Abraham entertained Angels unaware, thinking that they were ordinary men. Our creation in the image of God surely means that we can infer something about the real object of which we are but an image. Thus God, whom we reflect, is not something nebulous which we cannot conceive of.
- The Angels themselves are a reflection of God. Thus God could say of Moses " With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently...and the similitude of the Lord shall he behold" (Num.12:8). This is referring to Moses' instruction by an Angel which carried the name of the Lord (Ex.19:5,6). If the Angel was the similitude of the Lord it follows that God is in the same form as the Angels- i.e. in human shape physically, although with an infinitely higher nature than flesh and blood. " The Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" (Ex.33:11; Deut.34:10) show that the Lord was manifested in His Angel, whose face and mouth reflected that of the Lord Himself.
- Because we are in God's image, " He knoweth our frame" (Ps.103:14); He wishes us to conceive of Him as a personal being, a Father to whom we can relate. This would explain the many references to God's hands, arms, eyes etc. If God were a wisp of essence somewhere in the heavens - which has to be our conception of God if we reject His being personal-then these references are misleading and serve no teaching purpose.
- Descriptions of God's dwelling place clearly indicate that " God" has a personal location: " God is in Heaven" (Ecc.5:2); " He hath looked down from the height of His sanctuary; from the Heaven did the Lord behold the earth" (Ps.102:19,20); " Hear Thou in Heaven Thy dwelling place" (1 Kings 8). Yet more specifically than this, we read that God has a " throne" (2 Chron.9:8; Ps.11:4; Is.6:1; 66:1). Such language is hard to apply to an undefined essence which exists somewhere in Heavenly realms.
- This reasoning is all confirmed by Ezekiel's vision of the Heavenly organization; having described the cherub-chariots of Angels around the throne, " above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne...and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it" (Ez.1:26). With the utmost reverence we suggest that here we have a dim vision of the throne of God itself, with the likeness of God Himself in human form sitting upon it. Note the emphasis of the word " likeness" - this was not a vision of Heaven itself.
- Isaiah 45 is full of God referring to His personal involvement in the affairs of His people: " I am the Lord, and there is none else...I the Lord do all these things...I the Lord have created it. Woe unto him that striveth with his maker...I, even my hands have stretched out the heavens...look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth" . This last sentence especially shows the personal existence of God - He desires men to look to Him, to conceive of His literal existence with the eye of faith.
- God is revealed to us as a forgiving God. Yet forgiveness can only come from a person: it is a mental act. Thus David was a man after God's own heart (1 Sam.13:14), showing that God has a mind (heart), which is capable of being replicated to some limited degree by man, although man by nature is not after God's heart.
If God is not a real, personal being, then the concept of spirituality is hard to grapple with. If God is totally righteous but is not a material being, then we cannot really conceive of His righteousness manifested in human beings. Both apostate Christendom and Jewry have the notion that God's righteousness enters our lives through a nebulous 'holy Spirit' that somehow makes us into God's mental image, and acceptable to Him. Conversely, once we appreciate that there is a personal being called God, then we can work on our characters, with His help and the influence of His word, to reflect the characteristics of God in our beings.
God's purpose is to reveal Himself in a multitude of glorified beings. His memorial name, Jehovah Elohim, indicates this ('He who shall be mighty ones', in approximate translation). If God is not a physical being, then the reward of the faithful is to have a non-physical existence like God. But the descriptions of the faithful's reward in God's coming Kingdom on earth show that they will have a tangible, bodily existence, although no longer subject to the weaknesses of human nature. Job longed for the " latter day" when he would have a resurrection of his body (Job 19:25-27); Abraham must be one of the " many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth (who) shall awake...to everlasting life" (Dan.12:2) so that he can receive the promise of eternal inheritance of the land of Canaan, a physical location on this earth (Gen.17:8). " Saints shall shout aloud for joy...let them sing aloud upon their beds...and execute judgment upon the heathen" (Ps.132:16; 149:5,7). A failure by both Jew and Gentile to appreciate passages like these, as well as the fundamentally literal, physical import of the promises to Abraham, has led to the wrong notion of an " immortal soul" as being the real form of human existence. Such an idea is totally devoid of Biblical support. God is an immortal, glorious being, and He is working out His purpose so that men and women might be called to live in His future Kingdom on this earth, to share His attributes, expressed in a bodily form.
It should be evident that there can be no sensible concept of worship, religion or personal relationship with God until it is appreciated that God is personal, that we are in His image physically, albeit a very imperfect image, and need to develop His mental image so that we may take on the fullness of His physical image in the Kingdom of God. So much more sense and comfort can now be gained from the passages which speak of God as a loving Father, chastening us as a Father does his son (e.g. Deut.8:5). In the context of Messiah we read that " It pleased the Lord to bruise Him" (Is.53:10). We have shown elsewhere how God's promise to David of a seed who would be God's son also required the miraculous birth of a human being; once the corporeal, personal nature of God is appreciated, then this becomes logical to accept.