Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Shalom and welcome the third installment in our series on the message of Messiah from the prince of Old Testament prophets, Isaiah. Thus far, chapter seven has shown us that the coming Messiah would be born of a virgin and given the enigmatic designation of, “God with us.” Four additional titles for this singular child are provided in chapter nine, “Wonderful counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Father of eternity” and “Prince of Peace.” Of those four designations, two pertain to status as a warrior and two are wholly inappropriate if assigned to anyone but God Himself. Curious and curiouser, as the mystery of Messiah’s identifying traits compounds. Nonetheless, with these expansive foundational titles, Isaiah explicitly emphasizes that the child’s royal destiny is to be supreme ruler over Israel.

In chapter eleven, we see that the Messiah is a descendent of David, and thereby rightful heir to the Davidic Covenantal promises. Isaiah pictures the tree of the House of David as being chopped down to the stump, in other words, having fallen on hard times. In fact, David’s royal name isn’t even used here; rather, it is that of his father, Jesse. Yet, this humble stump of the Davidic line, no matter how modest in appearance, is described as still possessing life-force and brings forth a fresh new shoot, indeed, a fruit-bearing branch, the messianic descendant of David.

Isaiah then describes the dominant characteristic of the Branch. “Branch” (Heb. netzer) is a well-worn messianic term which finds its initial Old Testament usage in this passage. He will be completely and totally dominated by the leading of God’s Spirit. This will empower the Messiah’s rule to be one of extreme righteousness and acute judgment. Furthermore, his rule extends not only over Israel, but over the nations, the Gentiles, as well. This will not be gratuitous dominance, but rather, the reign of the Messiah will be welcomed by both Jews and Gentiles.

Finally, this passage describes the time of the messianic reign to be characterized by ultimate, perfect peace. This will be a period of worldwide spiritual awareness as well as extraordinary changes within the animal kingdom concerning the abrogation of predatory instincts. The prophet indicates that Messiah will in some way be the "perfect" David who will rule with the spirit of God, in wisdom, understanding, council, strength and the fear of the Lord. He will be a righteous and faithful King who will not only rule Israel but the whole world, as the Messianic Kingdom will encompass a world transformed into a paradise on earth (11:1-10; 55:4). 

Our Messiah, Jesus, arrived in the 1st century AD, a select period in history when Israel dwelt in the land without being ruled by a scion of David but, rather, under the domination of a Gentile power (Rome). By that time, the dynastic House of David had been reduced to an inglorious stump. The gospels reveal how in Jesus, the Davidic royal house was to be restored to magnificent holy grandeur.

Isaiah’s messianic message is jump-started in his collection of prophecies at the front end in three easy to remember odd-numbered chapters: 7,9, and 11. Next time we will jump ahead to the book’s second half, plunging into the deep theological and biographical waters of Isaiah’s servant songs.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


This month we return our attention to the prophet Isaiah for a second helping of his timeless message regarding our Messiah. In chapter 9 the prophet builds upon chapter 7’s intriguing revelation that the Messiah will be born of a virgin and given the designation, “God with us.” In an extraordinary passage filled with the imagery of expectant hope, we are told, beginning in v. 2, that, at some unspecified future point, a people living in a land so distressed that their lives are characterized as though they walked in darkness and in death’s shadow will, nonetheless, have a great light shine on them.

Isaiah identifies this brilliant light with the coming of the Messiah. The impact of His arrival will affect not only Israel, but will also have international repercussions. He will bring both joy to Israel and salvation to the nations. Many rabbis through the centuries have correctly agreed with Christians’ interpretation that this passages’ promised, future light can be identified with none other than the long-awaited Messiah (albeit while disagreeing over whether Jesus is that messianic figure).

Any ambiguity regarding the promised light source is removed by the prophet in 9:6-7, where Isaiah enumerates three notably unique qualities of the Messiah. First, the theme of the child’s birth will once again be picked up from the virgin birth promise of 7:14. Once again it is reiterated that when the messiah enters the world stage, it will be through the human birth process. He will not suddenly appear, fully mature as an adult. He will be born a child. There is no question that for Isaiah, the coming Messiah possesses the attributes of humanity.

Yet in addition to affirming the humanity of Messiah through the promise of His birth, Isaiah also reveals a second quality that demonstrates just how much more there is to the Messiah than may be initially expected. Two striking titles are attributed to the Messiah in 9:6. The child is described as both el gibbor, “Mighty God” and avi ad, “Father of Eternity.” It is hard to argue that either of these titles are ever or should ever be attributed to anyone other than the Lord Himself, Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. As readers, we are forced to simply accept at face value the prophet’s stunning revelation that the Messiah will be more than merely human. In some mysterious fashion not elaborated upon by Isaiah, we see that the Messiah will share the attributes of both humanity and deity. In other words, Isaiah teaches that the coming Messiah will be both God and man.

The third notable quality Isaiah revels regards the Messiah’s royal role. The Messiah will be a rule as king. The prophet assigns two powerful descriptions to make the point. First, the child is called pele yoetz. This title should not be misunderstood as a reference to the coming Messiah’s exceptional therapeutic counseling abilities. Nor should the two words be divided into the separate designations “wonderful” and counselor” (ala the KJV). In the context of the ancient world of the Bible, to be called a “wonderful counselor” meant to be an acutely insightful warrior, capable of designing successful battle stratagems.

Isaiah’s accompanying pele yoetz as the second royal description of the Messiah is sar shalom, “Prince of Peace.” This title works in tandem with the one previously given. Through the Messiah’s exceptional ability to defeat all enemies through warfare, He is able to both make and keep the peace. In fact, the prophet’s readers are told that there will be no end to the increase of the government which will rest upon his shoulders. Isaiah is careful to specify which government is being referred to. It is the government of the united kingdom of Israel and it is from His father David's throne that the Messiah will rule. That the Messiah is a descendent of David, and thereby rightful heir to the Covenantal promises to David, will be developed in next month’s exploration of Isaiah 11:1-10.

Monday, March 23, 2015


Due to the overwhelmingly favorable response we received on the last series in this column on the prophet Jeremiah, it seems appropriate to once again delve into the vast theological wealth of the prophets. This month, we begin a series based on the writings of the "prince of prophets", Isaiah; specifically what we can glean from his message concerning the Messiah. Since Isaiah is a vast and profound book, in this series we will just be touching upon some of his great Messianic themes and insights. To probe more deeply into this prophetic masterpiece would keep this series going indefinitely!

Isaiah, whose name means, "the Lord saves", lived during the time of the divided kingdom (upon Solomon's death, his kingdom split into Israel and Judah). Isaiah spent most of his ministry in Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah, approximately 700 years before Christ. During his ministry the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyria, and much of Isaiah's message concerns a warning to Judah that the same fate awaited them if the nation did not repent. Babylon would be the nation to lead Judah into this promised captivity.

However, the message of Isaiah does not only contain assurances of judgment and exile. The prophet is equally concerned with the promise of God's restoration and compassion. Isaiah paints a portrait of an age of peace and righteousness, not just for Israel or Judah, but throughout the whole earth. This "messianic age" will be brought about by God's unique ruler, the Messiah. It is to what the prophet tells us about this ruler that we will turn our attention.

From Isaiah's point of view, the Messiah was still yet to come. Isaiah doesn't specifically tell his contemporary readers/listeners that in seven hundred years they could expect a carpenter from Nazareth to be the Messiah but the information he provides is graphic enough for the careful and expectant watcher to recognize the promised ruler when he came.

Messiah is an English transliteration of a Hebrew word which means, "anointed one". Messiah and Christ have identical meanings. (The word "Christ" is the English transliteration of the Greek word for Messiah. Another way of referring to "Jesus Christ" is "Jesus the Messiah" or "Jesus the Anointed One".) Throughout his writings, Isaiah depicts a multi-faceted, several-dimensional mosaic of the coming Messiah's qualities. The prophet has literally saturated his work with references to Messiah. One has only to read through any few chapters to confirm this fact. We will briefly survey some of the major characteristics Isaiah furnishes.

The first clue we are given as to who the Messiah will be and what he will be like is found in 7:14. There is much debate as to how to accurately interpret this verse, and discussion as to whether the woman referred to is a virgin or not (the Hebrew word almah simply means “young woman of marriageable age,” who might or might not be married – unmarried 8th century BC Israelite maidens were assuredly virgins in a society where premarital sex was prohibited by both God’s law and Hebrew culture), whether Isaiah was speaking of a contemporary woman or someone in the far future.

However, since the context reveals that the divine sign provided by God was to be an unmistakably impressive one, I believe this passage teaches that the Messiah will be a human child born of a virgin.  Of particular note, this child will be given the designation, "God with us" (Immanuel). Of course, our Messiah, Jesus is the ultimate Immanuel, "God with us." More of the Messiah according to Isaiah next time.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Christ in Colossians Part 2

The following is the conclusion of a two-part series on Christ in the letter to the Colossians.

While the Christmas season may be long over, the aftermath of after-Christmas sales linger on, as does the great old bumper sticker that proclaims, "Jesus is the reason for the Season!" While I certainly agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment this slogan expresses, I can't help but wonder which Jesus is meant? Society presents many different versions of Jesuses for people to celebrate. For example, there is the "great moral teacher" Jesus, the Jewish version of Socrates or Buddha. There is also the "enlightened" New Age Jesus who came to raise our consciousness; the blond, blue-eyed Aryan Jesus who stands for white supremacy; the politically correct Jesus, etc. There are so many ideas of Jesus in circulation that it can get awfully confusing to a great many of us.

The doctrine of Christ is a critically important area of study. Often it is a deviation from theological orthodoxy, with some deviations being more subtle than others, of this very doctrine that separates the various cults from the Church. It is essential for us to know what the Bible reveals concerning the One we worship. This alone must be our standard reference work concerning our Lord and our relationship to Him. That relationship will be discussed following a brief summary of the ground covered last month.

Recall, first of all, that the theme of Paul's letter to the believers at Colossae is the complete sufficiency of Jesus in contrast to the insufficiency of human wisdom. There were certain people in Paul's day teaching that Christ was merely a glorified man, an enlightened master of divine wisdom; the bearer of a higher consciousness to which we need attain by means of secret knowledge. The old adage that there is nothing new under the sun particularly is relevant in regard to heresies. The letter to the Colossians is a terrific reminder of this. Indeed, much of the claptrap that passes for religious "insight" today is merely 1900 year old recycled heretical rubbish.

In the first chapter of Colossians, Paul establishes the preeminence of Christ is three areas. First of all, Christ is the visible representation of the invisible God and therefore is sovereign over the creation. Second, since Christ is the creator and architect of the whole universe and in fact sustains it, He is the rightful Lord of the universe. Third, Christ is the head (authority) of the church, having restored harmony between men and God through death on the cross. The restoration of God and mankind is called "reconciliation".

The amazing aspect regarding this accomplished reconciliation is that it is not only accomplished on a vertical plane, between God and men but also possessed a horizontal axis as well, reconciling Jews to Gentiles. This revelation, the fact that through Christ's death both Jews and Gentiles are spiritually equal before God and together form one new body, the church, was good news, it was also quite unexpected (Col. 1:26-27, Eph. 2,3:5). The reason we have this newfound capability to be unified into on new body is because Christ Himself can dwell in believers by His Spirit. Now He is the hope of glory - "Christ in us" (Col. 1:27). This supernatural indwelling provides great and powerful fuel to energize our individual and corporate ministries (1;29).

Paul matter-of-factly presents Christ to his readers as the very essence of Deity in bodily form (2:9). This specifically means that Christ has all the attributes of God. Contrary to what certain Colossian philosophers were teaching (and contrary to the contemporary echo of these ancient teachings today), these attributes are in no sense watered-down, diluted or distilled. Every attribute of deity possessed by Jesus is full- strength. Nor were these full-strength attributes imparted by God to a lesser divine being, who needed an improvement package to be raised up to a higher level of deity. Each and every one of Christ’s divine attributes are His by His very nature and have always belonged to Him. Christ is truly, “the Real Thing!” So, we must accept no substitutes.

In the same way Christ has all the attributes of God, so in Christ all believers have everything that we need, are supposed to have and God intended for us to have (2:10). The same word is used in both 2:9 and 2:10 to describe both Christ's fullness of Deity and our fullness in Christ. Consequently, there is no extra secret knowledge that believers must possess to be saved, no "second blessing" is to be sought for either our salvation, justification or sanctification. "Fullness in Christ" does not mean, as our New Age friends teach, that we are "little gods", minor divine beings awaiting the fulfillment of our potential. While we possess Christ, we do not possess the attributes of deity as does Christ. Therefore, don't prance out on the beach as Shirley MacLaine famously did thirty-five years ago, proclaiming joyfully, "I am God!" This is not only doctrinally incorrect; it is blasphemy. (Not to mention, somewhat embarrassing.)

What is the significance of having the gift of fullness in Christ? It means that we were spiritually circumcised when we were saved by Him. We were given a new nature. We got to cast off the old nature like so much dirty clothing abandoned to the hamper (2:11). No need to take the old nature to the laundry, though – we have a brand new and improved nature with which to be clothed. This occurred through our spiritual baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ, the moment of our union with Him (2:12).

When we were antagonistic to God in our pre-conversion lives; we neither had nor wanted a part of Him. We were like someone who owed a great deal of money, but lacking the ability to repay, assiduously avoided crossing paths with creditors at all costs. We were all defaulters on the loan of our lives, due to the accumulation of sin. In fact, when we were completely dead in our sins, spiritually bankrupt, owing a debt to God we could not possibly repay, Christ removed our debt completely. He wiped it out, marked our liabilities as cancelled. Our debt was crucified alongside Christ when He carried it with Him to the cross (2:13-14).

The first four verses of the third chapter of Colossians have particular bearing to our lives as believers. After establishing some theological basics about Christ in the first half of the letter, Paul proceeds in the remaining half to practical application for his readers. Again, Paul records that we have been identified and entered into union with Christ in His death burial and resurrection. Since that is the case we can concentrate on heavenly things. It is in the heavens, after all, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father (3:1-2). We have died to our former selves and to spiritual bankruptcy, so now we must strive to remain "debt-free." We must enjoy in our daily practical experience what Christ has made us in theological experience. From the moment we became believers our lives have been united with Christ's. To be united (hidden) with the Lord of creation and His church is both awesome privilege and responsibility (3:3).

We conclude our study with mention of the promise to which all believers look forward. Paul’s argument continues with the great news that Jesus Christ will be coming back to claim His own. When he returns for those of us with whom He has been united, we will share in His glory (3:4). There is plenty of divine glory to go around, rest assured! We will all have a piece of the action! As we proceed through another year together, let us be assured that the Lord Christ's glorious return is indeed nearer than when we first believed. Are you ready?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Christ in Colossians Part 1

As the director of Sojourner Ministries, I get a host of phone calls and a volume of email each week from people who have questions about the Bible, Jewish customs, theology, prophecy, Israel, etc. In answering these questions I have noticed that an alarmingly high number of people hold to a host of strange beliefs about Christ. Many of these problematic doctrines can be traced back to a misunderstanding or even ignorance of Scriptural teaching concerning the Messiah. As an antidote, I often reference Paul's letter to the Colossians to restore sound doctrine. It is in this brief, yet potent, epistle that Paul presents us with some of the most basic essentials concerning what God wants us to know regarding Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote the letter to the believers at Colossae to refute an alarming heresy which had arisen. This aberrant teaching both deprecated Christ and elevated human philosophy. Therefore, the theme of the letter is the complete sufficiency of Christ in contrast with the emptiness and insufficiency of mere human philosophy. Paul wastes no words as he pointedly levels the weapon of truth at his target.

Beginning in Colossians 1:15-29, Paul provides a veritable treasure trove of doctrinal gems. One truth stressed here is the absolute preeminence of the person of Christ. Jesus is the reflection of God; the absolute representation, image and manifestation of God the Father. In Christ, the invisible God becomes visible (1:15). As deity, Christ is therefore sovereign over all creation.

Paul continues by arguing that Christ is the firstborn over all creation. Being firstborn does not mean that Jesus was the first creature to be created, as some false teachers claimed. Rather, it is critical for readers to understand that Paul’s use of the term, “firstborn,” indicates Christ’s preexistence and unparalleled preeminence over creation. Christ was the creator of all. Therefore, it would be a position of absurdity to hold that He created Himself!

Our Messiah has no peer. That is precisely why He is before all things (1:17). Absolutely everything in the entire universe was created by His design and through His command. As architect and builder of creation, all things came into being by His decision, through his power and for His purpose. Furthermore, He is the sustainer. The bonding strength in which all things hold together is none other than Jesus.

Having established that Christ is Lord over all creation, Paul goes on to relate the Messiah’s supremacy over the Church. He is the supreme, uncontested head of the church. As such, He alone is the authority and guide for His body. He possesses sovereign preeminence by divine right and divine work since He is the firstborn (first fruits) from the dead, never again to die (1:18). The divine fullness indwells Him (1:19), which means that Jesus is in firm possession of the totality of God, including all the powers and attributes of deity. With that power and authority, Christ has reconciled God and the world, or more specifically, reconciled the world to God through the cross. Paul is not declaring here that all people are now saved. What he is teaching is that it is now possible for harmony to be restored between man and his Maker. Messiah’s death has dealt definitively with both sin and guilt. More next time …