The most widely known religious figure in the history of the world was a peasant with no army, no social prestige and no political power. He waged no war, fought no battles and never ruled an empire. He did not live the kind of life that historians, poets or songwriters of ancient times typically would write about.
He died young. His public ministry lasted no more than three-and-a-half years, during which time he never left his homeland. And yet his message was the first to spread to people throughout the world.
Here are some interesting facts involving Jesus, the founder of Christianity who was born in the land of Israel about 2000 years ago.
The Old Testament of the Bible contains many prophecies about a Messiah. One scholar, Alfred Edersheim, concluded that there at least 456 passages in the Old Testament that Jewish Rabbis have interpreted as being about the Messiah:
"Their number amounts to upwards of 456 (75 from the Pentateuch, 243 from the Prophets, and 138 from the Hagiographa), and their Messianic application is supported by more than 558 references to the most ancient Rabbinic writings."
- Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.
The word Pentateuch refers to the first five books of the Old Testament. The words Prophets and Hagiographa refer to other portions of the Old Testament. Edersheim was a Jewish convert to Christianity who lived during the 1800s.
One example of a Messianic prophecy can be found in Isaiah 42:1-9. There, the prophet Isaiah, who lived about 700 years before Jesus was born, spoke of a servant of God who would become a light for the Gentiles (non-Jews) and bring justice to the nations.
This prophecy also described the servant as being gentle and meek (verse 2) and yet having a far-reaching impact, on people throughout the world (verses 1, 4 and 6).
From other chapters of Isaiah, and from other prophecies within the Bible, we learn that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), that he would suffer and die for the sins of others (Isaiah 52:13-53:12), and that he would be eternal (2 Samuel 7:16 and Isaiah 9:6,7).
Jesus is the only person in history who is widely accepted as being the fulfillment of these prophecies.
Christians believe that Jesus, in accordance with other prophecies, is to return in the future when he will judge the living and the dead.
For hundreds of years, from the time of Moses through the time of Malachi, the prophets of the Old Testament foretold details about the bloodline, birth, life, mission, death, resurrection and return of a Messiah.
The writing of the Old Testament spanned as many as a thousand years and was completed a few centuries before the time of Jesus.
The Old Testament contains prophecies about the land and people of Israel, the surrounding nations, as well as the world as a whole. By some counts, there are more than 300 prophecies involving a Messiah, an annointed one who would offer salvation to people throughout the world. The prophecies include details about the birth of the Messiah.
The prophet Micah, for example, in Micah 5:2, wrote that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, a small village near Jerusalem.
And the prophets Jeremiah and Daniel offered details as to when the Messiah was to appear.
In Jeremiah 23:3-6, the prophet indicated that the Messiah would appear sometime after the Jews returned from a time of exile, which was about 2500 years ago. And in Daniel 9:24-27, Daniel indicated that the Messiah would appear before the second Temple would be destroyed, which happened about 1900 years ago.
The birth of Jesus occured during that interval, after many Jews had returned from exile, and before the second Temple was destroyed by the Romans.
The prophets foretold of a Messianic figure who would perform miracles (Isaiah 35:4-6), who would preach in Galilee and become an inspiration to Gentiles (Isaiah 9:1,2) and who would be a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-18).
Jesus is recorded in the New Testament as having fulfilled each of these, and stands alone as the only one to whom these fulfillments are attributed.
Jesus is recorded in each of the four Gospels - the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - as having performed miracles, such as healing people who were blind and deaf, miraculously feeding thousands of people with a few baskets of food, walking on water and rasing people from the dead.
Although his public ministry, which began when he was about 30 years old, took place within the land of Israel, he did preach to Gentiles (non-Jews). Many Gentiles lived in Galilee, a region in the northern part of the land of Israel. His teachings later became the most popular religion among Gentiles, with some current estimates of about 2 billion Christians worldwide.
Like Moses, Jesus was born during a time when the Jewish people were being ruled over and oppressed. And both Moses and Jesus were delivered from the threat of death as infants. Both performed miracles and gave prophecies. Both spent part of their lives in Egypt and both interceded with God on behalf of their people.
There are other details that were foretold, including that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem while riding a donkey (Zechariah 9:9). This was written in the Old Testament book of Zechariah centuries before the time of Jesus and was understood to be a prophecy that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem in a humble manner, riding on a donkey. The book of Matthew, which is part of the New Testament of the Bible records Jesus as fulfilling this prophecy.
The Old Testament also has prophecies about the nature of the Messiah, that he would be able to die for the sins of others and yet also be eternal.
The prophet Isaiah, for example, wrote in the 53rd chapter of the Old Testament book of Isaiah that the Messiah would die for the sins of others, indicating that the Messiah would be mortal.
But Isaiah also wrote, in chapter 9, that the Messiah would referred to as God and as being eternal.
Jesus is both man and God, fully human and yet fully God - God incarnate as a human. As God, he is eternal. As a man he was mortal and died during his execution by crucifixion, and was later resurrected.
The Bible's Old Testament consists of 39 books, with 16 of them named after the prophets who wrote them. Of those, the book of Isaiah, which was written as many as seven centuries before the time of Jesus, contains the most Messianic prophecies. Among other things, Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be rejected. One example can be found in Isaiah 53:1-4.
Although Jesus was acknowledged as being the Messiah by some people, he was rejected by many others.
Jesus was rejected at various times during his ministry, including by people within the town of Nazareth, where he grew up, and by many religious and community leaders in Jerusalem, where he was later crucified by the Romans.
The prophecy of rejection in Isaiah 53:1-4 is part of a broader prophecy that begins in Isaiah 52:13 and extends through Isaiah 53:12, which has been regarded as Messianic prophecy throughout history, even by non-Christian sources of commentary about the Bible.
One of the unique qualities about Jesus Christ as a religious figure is that he prophesied his own death and resurrection.
Some examples of this can be found in the Gospel of Matthew, in Matthew 16:21; 17:22,23; and 20:17-19. Jesus prophesied to his Apostles that he would be condemned, handed over to the Gentiles, mocked, flogged, and crucified, and that he would rise from the dead.
If Jesus had failed to be resurrected, his followers, obviously, would have had reason to conclude that he was a false prophet. And it would have been difficult, perhaps impossible, for Christianity to have continued as a movement in which its adherents evangelized about Jesus, and his resurrection, even at the risk of losing their own lives.
Each of the four Gospels describe the resurrection of Jesus: Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. And the resurrection is noted in other portions of the New Testament, including an example found in Acts 9. There, a man named Paul, who had been persecuting Christians, encountered Jesus years after the resurrection. Paul converted to Christianity, became an evangelist, and traveled thousands of miles by land and by sea to tell people about Jesus.
On or about the year that Jesus was crucified, an important ceremony at the Temple in Jerusalem is said to have stopped working, according to a Judaic collection of writings called the Talmud. Jesus was crucified sometime between 27 and 32 AD, according to various scholars.
That ceremony, called Yom Kippur or Day of Atonement, involved the yearly sacrifice of animals as a symbolic and temporary atonement for the sins of people. If the sacrifice was successful, meaning if God accepted it, certain events were to take place, such as a red piece of wool turning white and the gates of the Temple opening by themselves.
The ceremony was carried out in the Temple for centuries before the time of Jesus up until the year 70 AD, which is when the Romans destroyed the Temple. But, the ceremony is said to have stopped working about 40 years before the Romans destroyed the Temple:
"The rabbis taught: Forty years before the Temple was destroyed, the lot never came into the right hand, the red wool did not become white, the western light did not burn, and the gates of the Temple opened of themselves, till the time that R. Johanan b. Zakkai rebuked them, saying: 'Temple, Temple, why alarmest thou us? We know that thou art destined to be destroyed.'"
- Babylonian Talmud, Tract Yomah, Chapter IV, as translated by Michael L. Rodkinson.
According to the Talmud, Judaism's yearly atonement ceremony stopped working properly in or about the year 30 AD. That would correspond to either the same year, or about the same year, that Christians believe Jesus became the permanent atonement for sin.
Many people view Jesus as the fulfillment of prophecy, but he also gave prophecies. Among them was a prophecy about the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of its inhabitants.
Jesus said that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed, that the Jews would be forced out of their homeland and scattered throughout the world, and that the church would prevail despite intense persecution. The fulfillment of these prophecies have left a physical impact that is visible today.
In Matthew 24:1-2, Jesus says that the Temple would be so completely destroyed that not one stone would be left standing on top of another. Ancient historians have described the Temple as a massive stone structure. Josephus claimed that some of the stones were about 37-feet long, 12-feet high, and 18-feet wide. (In meters, that's about 12-by-4-by-6). The Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Temple's destruction was so complete that today people can only speculate as to its precise location on the Temple mount in Jerusalem.
In Luke 21:24, Jesus says that Jerusalem would be destroyed and that the Jews would be taken as captives to all the nations. When the Romans destroyed the city in 70 AD and again 135 AD, many Jews were taken as captives and slaves to different parts of the Roman Empire. Subsequent persecutions in those countries forced many Jews to seek new countries to live in. Eventually, the Jews were forcibly scattered throughout the world.
In Matthew 16:17-18, Jesus tells Peter that even the gates of Hell will not overcome the church. Despite intense persecution during the first three centuries, Christianity became the first religion to spread to countries all over the world. Today, Christianity is the world's largest religion. The church not only survived, it thrived to an extent unmatched by any other religion in history.
In the Book of Acts, specifically in Acts 1:8, Jesus informs his followers that they will be successful in spreading his message of salvage - the Gospel - to people throughout the world.
The Old Testament passages of Micah 5:4 and Isaiah 49:6 also indicate that the message of salvation would spread throughout the world.
During the time of Jesus, and for a few centuries after that, the Romans ruled over the land of Israel, where Jesus was from. The Roman Empire was antagonistic to Christianity. Even so, Jesus' followers quickly spread the Gospel throughout the Roman world, which included parts of Africa, Asia and Europe, during the first few centuries after his crucifixion.
From there, Christianity eventually spread to the world's other continents and islands. Christianity became the first and perhaps even today the only religion to have a widespread, historically influential presence on each of the world's inhabitable continents.
Through the spread of Christianity, the Bible became the first religious text to be distributed throughout the world. The Bible, according to commonly used almanac and encyclopedia sources, is the predominant religious text in Europe, Oceania, North America and South America. At least some of these sources of information claim that it also is the predominant religious text in Africa. And, it has an influential presence in Asia, especially in Armenia, East Timor, the nation of Georgia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Russia, South Korea, and Israel, which is the birthplace of Jesus.
© Ray Konig | azbible.com
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