A FOURFOLD PORTRAIT OF JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE HEBREW MESSIAH
I. SCRIPTURAL TESTIMONY
THE Lord is the God of truth. Everything which He does is in the open. He wants truth and facts always to triumph in everything. At the mouth of competent, truthful witnesses was everything to be established in the law courts of Israel. In regard to a man or woman who was accused of worshiping idols, the Lord gave the following instructions:II. THE PERSONAL MINISTRY OF JESUS
2 If there be found in the midst of thee, within any of thy gates which Jehovah thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that doeth that which is evil in the sight of Jehovah thy God, in transgressing his covenant, 3 and hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, or the sun, or the moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded, 4 and it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it; then shalt thou inquire diligently; and, behold, if it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel, 5 then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, who hath done this evil thing, unto thy gates, even the man or the woman; and thou shalt stone them to death with stones. 6 At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is to die be put to death; at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. 7 The hand of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So thou shalt put away the evil from the midst of thee (Deut. 17:2-7).
Whenever a report came to the civil authorities that a certain person or persons had gone into idolatry, investigation was to be made. If the charges were established beyond a doubt by credible witnesses, the guilty ones were to be executed.
Whenever a person was condemned in court of being guilty of idolatry, the witnesses, whose testimony convictedcaused the conviction ofthe accused, were to cast the first stones in the execution. By the testimony of one witness, no one was to be executed. Since the witnesses were to cast the first stones in executing the criminal, a witness was most careful not to give any false testimony, because he knew that he would have to initiate the execution.
We have every reason to believe that God desires a thorough and impartial investigation of every matter and wants the truth and the facts to be presented accurately in all cases. In keeping with these general observations, one may be sure that God follows the same definite, clear-cut principles with reference to Jesus of Nazareth, the Hebrew Messiah and Saviour of the world.
In fulfillment of prophecy, the Lord sent a herald to announce to the nation the approaching manifestation of the Messiah. This herald was none other than John the Baptist, who electrified the nation by his fearless preaching, calling upon the people to repent, and by his making the startling announcement that the Messiah was to appear shortly.III. THE LIVING VOICE
The Lord gave John the sign by which He could identify the Messiah. On one occasion, as he was standing with some of his disciples, he saw Jesus coming toward him. Then he bore this testimony:
29 On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man who is become before me: for he was before me. 31 And I knew him not; but that he should be made manifest to Israel, for this cause came I baptizing in water. 32 And John bare witness, saying, I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven; and it abode upon him. 33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize in water, he said unto me, Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him, the same is he that baptizeth in the Holy Spirit. 34 And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God (John 1:29-34).
From the time that John the Baptist bore this testimony to Jesus, some of his disciples left him and followed Jesus.
From this time and onward the Lord went about doing good and speaking nothing in private, but being open and above board in His teaching and labors. On this point, the Apostle Peter declared to the household of Cornelius:
34 Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35 but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him. 36 The word which he sent unto the children of Israel, preaching good tidings of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)37 that saying ye yourselves know, which was published throughout all Judæa, beginning from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached; 38 even Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the country of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom also they slew, hanging him on a tree. 40 Him God raised up the third day, and gave him to be made manifest, 41 not to all the people, but unto witnesses that were chosen before of God, even to us, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he charged us to preach unto the people, and to testify that this is he who is ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins (Acts 10:34b-43).
The life, teaching, and activities of the Lord Jesus were well known to the people of Israel, for the Apostle Paul, in speaking to Festus declared, "For I am persuaded that none of these things is hidden from him [Agrippa]; for this has not been done in a corner" (Acts 26:26). So well known were they among the people of Israel that the Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost could say to a large Jerusalem audience:
22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God unto you by mighty works and wonders and signs which God did by him in the midst of you, even as ye yourselves know; 23 him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay: 24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it (Acts 2:22-24).
If Jesus, His activities, and teachings were so well known throughout the nation of Israel, one naturally inquires how it is that there is practically no clear-cut mention of Jesus found in the Talmud and other Jewish sources. Dr. Joseph Klausner states that in the Talmud very little is said about anything that occurred during the time of the Second Temple. The world would know practically nothing about the long and bitter struggle between the Greco-Syrian kings and the Judæan Maccabean princes if it had not been for the apocryphal books of First and Second Maccabees and the Greek writings of Josephus. Dr. Klausner is also of the firm conviction that the labors of Jesus were, in the eyes of the leaders of Israel of His day, insignificant in comparison with the events connected with the Herods and the Roman procurators. He also believes that, when the sages of Israel compiled the Talmud, the times of Jesus and things connected with Him had receded into the darkness of the past, being overshadowed by current events. Whereas the heathen opponents of Christianity perverted the teachings of Jesus and attributed to Him occult powers, the Jews who spoke of Him distorted His teachings and attributed His miracles to the power of the evil one.
From the first Pentecost after the Resurrection of Christ and onward, the apostles, who had been instructed by the Lord Jesus during His personal ministry, bore testimony to what Jesus taught and did. They went everywhere preaching the Word and giving their testimony. They had a definite plan outlined to them by the Lord Jesus Himself (Acts 1:8). According to this program, they were to await the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would speak through them. Being thus inspired, they were to testify concerning Him first in Jerusalem, then in all Judæa, and next in Samaria. Lastly they were to go to the uttermost parts of the earth. In the Book of the Acts of the Apostles we see that they followed these instructions. The eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word, therefore, went everywhere preaching the gospel. Naturally the people wanted to hear the message from the lips of those who had actually been associated with Jesus Christ during His personal ministry, and who had heard Him on many different occasions. The preaching done by eyewitnesses was called the living voice. As time passed, these eyewitnesses began one by one to die. There arose, therefore, a situation which demanded that the story told by these eyewitnesses be put in the permanent form of writing.IV. THE GOSPEL RECORDS
To meet this demand God gave through four of His messengers accounts of the life, labors, and teachings of the Saviour. Let us recall that at the mouth of two or three witnesses everything should be established. Following that definite principle, the Lord gave three records of the life of Jesus of Nazareth which are called the synoptic Gospels. They are thus designated because of their giving a synoptic, or general, idea of Christ's life and labors.
Matthew is rather topical in the treatment of his material, although in certain portions he is chronological. Mark and Luke are more nearly chronological. Luke states that, "having traced the course of all things accurately from the first," he has written an orderly narrative.
According to tradition, Matthew, an eyewitness, an associate, and an apostle of the Lord Jesus, wrote his account of the life of Christ for his Jewish brethren. He assumed on the part of his readers a knowledge of Jewish affairs and teachings. He also assumed on their part a belief in the prophecies of the Old Testament. Sometimes he quoted verbatim from the Septuagint, a Greek version of the Old Testament, and sometimes he was freer in his quotations. He alone of the three evangelists assumed that his readers accepted the Old Testament. Thus Matthew is very readily understood by the Hebrew people who have a knowledge of the Old Testament. The Gospel of Matthew is placed first in the canon of the New Testament. For many people it is the favorite Gospel account.
On the other hand, Mark, the writer of the second record of the Gospel, wrote for the Roman people, presenting the message of life and light through Jesus Christ. One of their chief characteristics was an admiration for a man of action, one with a heroic spirit, who would dare and do. According to tradition, Mark wrote, as just stated, for the Roman people and presented his material in such a way that they could readily understand his message and be captivated by it.
Luke, the beloved physician, was led of God to write a record of the life of Christ for the Greek people. The language of the Gospel of Luke and of the Epistle to the Hebrews is literary koine Greek of the period. The introduction to Luke's record has been recognized as equal to anything that is found in classical Greek.
Renan called the Gospel of Luke the most beautiful book in the world. It gives a fuller account of the life of Jesus than any of the other Gospel writers. Mark and Luke go along, figuratively speaking, in the same groove, the former being briefer than the latter. The literary style of Luke had an appeal to the cultured, educated Greeks; yet his story is told in a simple straightforward manner.
God raised up these three witnesses to testify concerning the matchless life of Jesus of Nazareth. These three records were written around A.D. 60-63 as the living voice was dying out.
Later, somewhere between A.D. 85 and 90, John, the beloved Apostle, was led to write the record which bears his name, the Gospel of John, which is called a spiritual Gospel by one of the early church fathers. A perusal of the Gospel of John shows that he says less about the actual works of Jesus than the other writers do, though he mentions some of them. He devoted his time to presenting Christ in His true nature as the God-man. There beams forth from every page testimony that He was the Eternal Word, who was in the beginning with God, who was God, and who, in the course of time, laid aside the glory which He had with the Father and took upon Himself the form of a servant, becoming obedient unto death, yea, the death of the cross.
For the truth-seeker it is wonderful to study each of these Books separatelyjust as they were given. It is also a most delightful and profitable study to put them together in the form of a harmony. When one engages in such a study logically, he sees the entire life of Jesus as set forth by competent, truthful, capable witnesses.
Sometimes one of the writers alone mentions a certain incident in the life of Christ. Oftentimes only two of them mention another event. At times all three of the synoptics describe or narrate a certain occurrence; and, in a few instances, all four of the writers mention some events. All of them are very explicit and full with reference to things that occurred during the last week of Christ's life.
But the testimony of the apostles must be considered separately and together and treated according to the principles of valid evidence which obtain in the courts of the land. This fact was shown in Chapter XV of Book Two as set forth by the renowned scholar Dr. Simon Greenleaf.
I wish that space permitted my presenting the four records of the Gospel in the form of a harmony, but it is impossible to do so because of the limited space. Some day I hope, if God wills, to make a harmony of the Gospels in my own translation.