This article describes Jesus public declaration of his messiahship and coming of the kingdom. The king had arrived!
1”As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
4This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:
5“Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey, and [‘kai’ also “even”] on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ” (Matthew 21:1-5 quoting Zechariah 9:9)
1”As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ ” (Mark 11:1-3)
“Hosanna!”“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” [quoting from Psalm 118:25,26]
10“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mark 11:9b-10)
38“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38 quoting Psa. 118:26)
“Hosanna!”“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:13)
15“Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.” (John 12:14)
How was King Jesus triumphant for Zion?
WARNING TO READER: Any discussion of this nature touches on multiple corollary issues like spokes of a wheel which need mentioning. To further illustrate, the hub of the wheel is the person of Jesus, the rim of the wheel is evangelicalism and the spokes are the many topics which support and strengthen the wheel such as inerrancy, personal experience, hope and fear, prophecy etc… I will address these briefly in this article and refer to them in others; however, it is vital we begin to lay the groundwork for our study.
Though not often discussed as being relevant to the critical study of Jesus, these texts have immense significance. They mark Jesus public declaration of his role as king of Israel and visual proof the kingdom had arrived. They provide a perfect metaphor to introduce our study of “The King.”
Inerrancy, Infallibility and Inspiration
Before we begin a long and detailed comparison, analysis and synthesis of various biblical texts, we must first state categorically what is at stake.
Either the Bible is absolutely true or it is absolutely false. This is to say, its entire contents must submit to rigorous scientific scrutiny to determine validity. If there is no evidence of contradiction or error, absoluteness has been proven. If, however, it fails in even a single case to conform to the laws of the scientific method and logical consistency, it has failed to satisfy the requirements of absoluteness. This is, “The all or none theory of inerrancy.”
To a theologian, the above terms are related but not identical. Most evangelicals, however, adopt this definition:
“Divine inspiration is the process whereby God via his holy spirit superintended or guided the biblical writers to provide a perfect, infallible or inerrant record of his original Word.”
Among Christians there are varying degrees of allegiance to the authority of the Bible. Many evangelicals espouse a rigid absolute view of the Bibles perfection in all things it affirms from the Creation Account in Genesis to the coming Apocalypse in the book of Revelation. At the complete other end of the spectrum are Christians who ascribe a modicum of divine authority or general inspiration to some of its teachings but not all. To them it’s more than a human book because the writers genuinely believed they were recording the thoughts and intentions of God. God “inspired” them insofar as they tried to comprehend him within their limitations. To these the Bible becomes inspired through their encounter with God through it.
Throughout our studies we will be targeting all those who propose an absolute authority to any and/or all biblical teaching which transcends the realm of science (in all its fields), history, logic and common sense, or, “If the Bible affirms it, it’s absolutely true.” However, one belief which all Christians have in common is the resurrection. Without it, there is no Christianity. Therefore, it will consume the bulk of our attention.
A fundamental problem with this view of inerrancy surfaces when comparing the testimonies of multiple witnesses of the same event such as the four gospels. Either every detail of each account is true and non contradictory or at least one is wrong and absolute infallibility crumbles. We like evangelicals will assume every verse is authentic for the purposes of our study to test this hypothesis. To put it succinctly, the Bible is its own worst enemy when it comes to its infallibility.
Most Christians would love nothing more than to have their spiritual cake and eat it too. To be able to pick and choose what in the Bible is divinely binding on their lives and what is not. To relish the prospect of a life in heaven with their friends and loved ones without having to compromise their lives on earth. Basically, to enjoy all the pleasures the world has to offer then enjoy all the pleasures heaven has to offer when they die. It does not work this way. You have to pick one or the other. You either sacrifice this life for the next, or the next life for this one.
Belief in the inerrancy of the Bible is not only a doctrine, it has lifestyle consequences. Proof evangelicals believe inerrancy is a life characterized by supreme dedication to the absolute teachings of the Bible.
The greatest proof (or disproof) of inerrancy is the lives of evangelicals.
32“Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.
34“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn
“ ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ [quoting from Micah 7:6]
37“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:32-39)
24”Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save their life f will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.” (Matthew 16:24-27)
These are only a couple of many passages which unequivocally mark the believers life as one of suffering and sacrifice and not comfort and ease. This is reiterated throughout the Bible. The most compelling evidence the Bible is true is its inexplicable power to produce lives of uncompromising virtue.
Taking a traditional view of the Bible and Christianity and modernizing the faith is not only preferred but also reasonable. This prevents believers from weaponizing the Bible to inflict harm on those who don’t subscribe to its teachings. Furthermore, it allows them to escape the high standards of righteousness and call to a life of discipline and denial while still allowing for a more moderate approach to the Christian life.
There are many elements contained throughout the Bible which have had and can have benefits so long as they are never elevated to the position of supremely authoritative over everything else. The “Golden Rule” for instance is a general principle which benefits all. The danger with the doctrine of inerrancy we see among evangelicals today is their use of it to justify their interpretation of the Bible and declare it divinely sanctioned and mandated.
The horrific crimes against humanity which ideological militancy justifies in the name of God are presently well attested throughout our world. And while the more politically aggressive arm of evangelicalism is not taking to the streets with weapons, and it is hoped never will, that possibility exists. It is a culture steeped in warfare terminology which celebrates conflict as evidence of God’s unfolding eschatological drama. Trump and other evangelical leaders have gone so far as to hint at the possibility of armed protests if they feel their rights and freedoms are being threatened. The irony of their own blatant attempts to strip others of theirs should not go unmentioned.
The Triumphal Entry of Jesus as King
The various verses in the four gospels cited at the opening of this article makes no denying Jesus was being hailed as “the king of Israel” who was heralding “the coming kingdom” in fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy. Later, Pontus Pilate will place the epitaph, “King of the Jews” on Jesus’ cross to indicate the charge against him was indeed this claim.
With this in mind, it is impossible to separate the king from the kingdom. If Jesus was declared king at this time, which he clearly was, his kingdom arrived simultaneously as stated. However, in no way did Jesus take a single step as king or exercise any regal power. He was king without a throne.
In what way was Jesus triumphant or kingly? Are we to suppose this is yet to be and that this spectacle had no relevance to those who hailed him king?
If we could go back in time and follow Jesus in these final days of his earthly life. What would we see?
How many pilgrims who were attending Passover at this time recognized Jesus as the political messiah king? This has far reaching consequences. There is no answer that does not raise multiple issues. If the number is one thousand out of a population of conservatively one million attendees, this is a scant 0.1 percent, hardly in keeping with the installment of God’s messiah son and inauguration of his glorious kingdom. If we put the number in the tens or hundreds of thousands, where did they all go when Jesus was arrested? Why did they not demand his release when Pilate offered? Why were they not at the tomb?
To put it another way. If a large number of Jewish pilgrims saw Jesus as the long awaited king, and the Romans arrested him, there would have been a massive revolt. But if, and this is a huge if, they understood him to be the future heavenly messiah, why were there not thousands keeping vigil at his tomb? It was obvious he didn’t act as king nor resisted arrest. He had no crown or throne. His disciples knew exactly who he was and what was going to happen (arrest, death, resurrection) according to the gospels. Would they not have informed the crowd? Wasn’t that their responsibility, or had they already forgotten “the plan?”
So glaring is the fact not a single person was present at Jesus’ tomb awaiting his resurrection as is to defy comprehension. We must conclude, in accordance with the text, Jesus’ kingship was immediate. He would begin to fulfill his kingly prerogatives the moment he entered the holy city. All he needed was Yahweh’s divine intervention to begin his reign. His arrest only seemed to confirm his title and accelerate the prospect of God’s supernatural visitation which never came.
The only plausible explanation is the numbers were in the hundreds confined to those who came from Galilee, curious onlookers and some looking for political revolt. We can imagine the crowd Jesus travelled with attracted a bigger crowd caught up in the emotional fervor of Passover. What better time for the messiah to appear? We can surmise there were not enough supporters to begin a full scale revolt or there would have been one. A hundred years later such an uprising would occur under Bar Kochba (c. 135AD)
After Jesus was arrested almost everyone deserted him including his closest followers because this messianic movement never reached the all important critical tipping point. Only Peter remained but at a distance (Matthew 26:31-35). Hope of a political king who would restore Israel and vanquish the Romans died with Jesus on the cross, but only for a few days.
The only explanation that makes sense is no one was more surprised the kingdom never came than Jesus. His final words on the cross attest to this with agonizing honesty.
“46About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”.(Matthew 27:46 quoting Psalm 22:1)
Here we come face to face with the real Jesus in all his raw emotional honesty. Nothing can conceal Jesus sobering realization his Messianic dreams were about to die with him on the cross. More on this in the coming articles.
The Big Picture
Much of what we discuss in this article will be revisited as we move through the narrative. I want the reader to have an overall perspective of where we are going and how we are getting there, the methods we will use and why. It is imperative those who are invested in Christianity, try to separate intellect and emotion as we wade into the cold waters of literary criticism.
The first textual note worth mentioning gives us a taste of what awaits us occurs in Matthew’s account. Translating from the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint or LXX, he makes an interpretive choice for the small Greek word ‘kai’ which can either mean “and” or “even” (the Hebrew uses a wav conjunction which is generally translated “and”). This is significant to the original passage in question from Zechariah because it is either used to further describe the donkey as being an unridden young colt, or to indicate two separate animals, a mother and her colt. The issue is consistency among the accounts.
Mark, Luke and John clearly choose the singular meaning while Matthew mentions two animals. Note the underlined pronouns to match the noun(s). If this were the only example in the entire Bible, it alone would challenge absolute inerrancy.
Christians faced with this and other discrepancies have invented creative solutions to harmonize the texts such as Jesus switching between the two animals or the mother following behind. But this is not the point. The wording of each narrative is different. Did Jesus speak with a singular pronoun and then switch to a plural a few minutes later?
This may not seem like a major issue but in the world of absolute inerrancy, there is no room for any errors no matter how small. Furthermore, the Bible is full of these problems from beginning to end if one takes the time to investigate them. Unfortunately, most evangelicals never begin to avail themselves of the massive amount of problems associated with inerrancy because: It upsets their faith and they lack the necessary knowledge and expertise to fully understand and resolve them. Also, they assume they are invented by liberals, academics and scientists who refuse to acknowledge the supernatural and miraculous. It is easier to vilify the “enemy” than take the time to reasonable investigate the issues. This knee jerk reaction to opposition is a defense mechanism or a kind of faith reflex which prevents and protects against criticism and preserves one’s faith.
Ignorance is eternal bliss.
Easy believeism, Cheap grace & Eternal security: The unholy trinity of evangelicalism
These three evangelical concepts bears repeating because they serve as the undergirding for the hypocrisy and complacency that plagues American evangelicalism today. The thing that makes these teachings so diabolical is the each contain a grain of theological truth making them seem biblical.
The late Billy Graham though revered by evangelicals championed as a great Christian leader did more to create a doctrinally watered down style of Christianity than anybody. He is largely responsible for the insipid brand of Christianity covering the American landscape because he offered people exactly what they wanted: Free salvation with no strings attached that could be acquired by a simple prayer and never lost. In exchange, Graham could claim immense success as an evangelist by showing thousands of conversions at his crusades. These converts entered the faith never hearing the word repentance or learning the central tenets of the faith. Baptism was not part of the initial salvation process and follow up was left to local churches. Decisions were generated by emotionally charged sermons depicting heaven and hell. He created need by stressing the reality of hell and eternal damnation then offered the remedy in Jesus who would replace fear with hope and give true meaning to life. In essence he scared people into heaven by offering an easy and simple way through Jesus. Unlike his predecessors, Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley and Charles Finney to name a few, Graham seldom demanded personal piety play a pivotal role in being saved.
A faith without fangs
If evangelicals believed salvation was conditional upon obedience to the sacred word, America would be a much better place. Unfortunately, the only thing to motivate a believer to live out his/her faith is love and devotion to God and appreciation for what Jesus has provided. Clearly, this is not enough.
I will repeat this psychological trait about evangelicals often. The fact they don’t have to work at their salvation removes any incentive for being righteous. And since American evangelicals have basically made being a believer synonymous with being an American, there is no compromise to their lifestyle. Being good is good enough. As long as you try to keep the commandments as best you can and ask for forgiveness if you occasionally slip up, your place in heaven is secure.
The prosperity gospel has given many evangelicals justification for accumulating wealth and pursuing materialism. Nobody questions the lavish lifestyles of evangelical entertainers, athletes, politicians and celebrities who flaunt their wealth unabashedly as proof of God’s blessing.
Apple pie evangelicals are those who equate being a Christian with being an American. Happiness and prosperity, comfort and convenience are evidence of God bestowing his goodness upon his children. This thinking reverts to that of David and Solomon who concluded God would not reward me if he was not happy with me (2 Samuel 23:5, 1 Kings 3:10-14).
We mention it here to emphasize the blending of evangelicalism and American nationalism which pervades society. This union is powerful and disturbing because it breeds sacralism. The separation of church and state becomes a revolving door. The American military can be viewed as an extension of God’s arm of justice around the world. Furthermore it gives immense credence to evangelicalism by weaving it tightly into the fabric of the American identity.
Context, context, context
“A verse out of context is a pretext for a proof text”
This is a fundamental principle of biblical interpretation taught in many evangelical institutions. It is profoundly ironic those who uphold this hermeneutical law practice a faith based on violating it. There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.
Every Bible verse has various contexts associated with it: Immediate context (the verses before and after it), literary context (its place in the writing in which it is found) and historical context (the time, place and circumstances surrounding its inclusion in the writing). These must all be carefully considered when interpreting a verse. Verses can have multiple applications but only one meaning.
The problem with prophetic texts is those who ascribe divine authority to them refuse to admit when they fail to be fulfilled. Rather than deem them “false,” they simply shift them forward to another time. Or when faced with obvious “partial” fulfillment which failed to live up to prophetic ideals, they claim the “double” fulfillment theory or the “two mountain top” view of prophecy otherwise known as “telescoping.” Thus a prophet is said to have intended a near and a distant fulfillment like two mountain peaks that appear close but are actually considerably separated. This reasoning preserves prophetic authority and allows for a yet future fuller and complete fulfillment. Deferred hope is most clearly seen with the failure of the Messianic kingdom during Jesus day which is conveniently pushed forward ad infinitum.
This theory undergirds much of inerrancy and amounts to circular reasoning by postulating predictive prophecy proves divine inspiration and the prophecies are predictive because they are divinely inspired, and so on…
Let us examine the immediate context of this prophetic pillar in the life of Jesus.
8But I will encamp at my temple
to guard it against marauding forces.
Never again will an oppressor overrun my people,
for now I am keeping watch.
The Coming of Zion’s King
9Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (Zechariah 9:8-10)
I defy evangelicals to fit this verse into Jesus’ triumphal ride into Jerusalem. Despite what is stated in verse eight, Jerusalem would be overrun by the Romans (68-70AD). And nothing resembling “peace to the nations” transpired at this time. It is impossible without separating the two verses by two thousand years and proposing a Christian eschatology. Of course this is preposterous. Jesus is not returning on an ass to initiate Armageddon a some future time. It is nonsensical the ends to which evangelicals will go in order to force every verse to conform to their dogma.
If this verse was not intended for Jesus, what was the author’s intent at the time of its writing? Though debate continues as to the original historical event represented, a popular theory is it refers to Alexander the Great’s southern march through the Levant and Jerusalem’s subsequent capitulation. Most conservative commentators see the opening verses of this chapter as describing this campaign.
Once word got out the seemingly impregnable city of Tyre had fallen after a protracted siege over water, Jerusalem knew it could never withstand Alexander’s assault. Fearing for her populace, Jerusalem’s leaders surrendered. As was common among Eastern rulers, Alexander adopted a submissive posture on the back of a small donkey to accept the terms of surrender.
According to the prophet, the great Greek conqueror was regarded as an instrument of God much like Cyrus of Persia two hundred years earlier or the Babylonians as tools of righteous judgment in spite of their own wickedness.
Regardless of the identity of this king, it is obvious nothing in the prophecy resembles Jesus entry into Jerusalem. For reasons which we don’t have time to explore, it is possible the story of Jesus riding a donkey is a literary fiction intended to bolster his Messianic credentials from ancient prophecy. This is based on the assumption Jesus was not declared messiah king until after entering Jerusalem at the urging of the crowds. Unless he left and re-entered the city symbolically, this event is out of place chronologically. Also the disparity among the gospel accounts re: one or two animals, undermines the basic reliability of the account. If Matthew was an eye witness, the other accounts are contradicted. Mark’s gospel is the earliest which suggests Matthew doctored his account to fit the LXX.
Some readers may be inclined to dismiss this as overly critical or nitpick. I will remind them this is only one in a long chain of textual problems confronting inerrantists which when viewed in totality serve to severely weaken their position.
Again, had the kingdom come as Jesus and his followers expected, this verse would have been applicable. Later after Jerusalem had fallen and the temple been destroyed (68-70AD), there was a resurgence of expectation which prompted this verse. Despite forty years passing since Jesus was alleged to have made his entrance, and the decimation of Jerusalem, the author still regarded this verse as applicable. This relatively small gap between Jesus’ declaration as earthly king and his arrival as heavenly king forty years later, was still plausible to his readers. However, separating these events by two millennia is an affront to common sense.
We will revisit the Apocalyptic material used in the synoptics in the next article since it revolves around this event.
A graphic reminder
John’s account mentions a visit by Jesus and his disciples to the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus in Bethany while on their way to Jerusalem for Passover (John 12:1-2). It is significant because Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, is among them serving as a graphic reminder of Jesus’ resurrection which is only days away. At this point, the disciples would have no doubts about what is going to happen and instead should be filled with excitement at its significance. John’s narrative will go on to record the impact of this particularly the coming and ministry of the holy spirit in the lives of believers such as the disciples. This verse anticipates what many wondered.
16”At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.”(John 12:16)
This verse is conveniently inserted by the author as an editorial remark at the time of writing (c. 100 AD). It stands alone as a weak and pathetic attempt to defend the indefensible and explain the inexplicable: How could the disciples not know what was so obvious and clear, something right before their eyes?
The writer, likely a disciple of John, composed his narrative with the assumption all Christians had at this time: Jesus’ death and resurrection were predicted and planned by God. Here we have one of many examples of revising and inventing “facts” to support a later conclusion. The early Christians personal experience with the risen Christ necessitated they see all events as sovereignly intended and orchestrated culminating in Jesus’ glorious resurrection.
Of course it would be assumed Jesus closest disciples were confounded by the complexity of what transpired and could not be expected to understand. This argument as will be shown collapses under the weight of huge amounts of verbal, visual and audible reminders they received up to, during and after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Their culpability, if the narratives are true, is definitive.
All the gospel writers faced the same dilemma of trying to make the heavenly Christ compatible with the earthly Jesus. The Jesus who walked the earth was visible and carnal while the heavenly Christ was invisible and spiritual. John 3:16 and 7:39 are attempts by the writer to harmonize this tension which revolves around the cross.
Technically, Jesus could not have offered eternal life until his death on the cross to pay for sins and his resurrection to break the power of death. Thus, his entire ministry should have focused on pointing people to his future work, but we know from the gospel accounts, he was silent.
The Messianic “Secret”
13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
14They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, b and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades c will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be d bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be e loosed in heaven.” 20Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.” (Matthew 16:13-20)
There exists a theory which suggests Jesus told his disciples and those he healed not to reveal his true identity. The evidence is found throughout the narratives where he “sternly warns” a leper he has healed not to tell anyone what he has done (Mark 1:43-45). Later after Peter identifies Jesus as the messiah he instructs him and the other disciples not to tell anyone he is the messiah (Mark 8:29,30, also Matthew 16:13-20). Additionally, part of the theory is Jesus’ frequent use of parables intended to conceal from those other than his disciples (!) the true nature of his ministry.
Which theory seems more plausible:
- Jesus employed parables and encouraged those closest to him to guard his true role as future messiah who would be crucified, rise from the dead, ascend into heaven, send his spirit to indwell believers and return thousands of years later. In the regard, his ministry was largely redundant since he could not grant eternal life or the forgiveness of sins until his work on the cross which he would not disclose. And, the promised kingdom was entirely spiritual in nature although this also required his ascension before it could be fully initiated. His kingship which he publicly announced when arriving at Jerusalem during Passover had no significance to the nation of Israel but would be realized when he returned prior to setting up the Millennial Kingdom on earth. Or,
- Jesus had no premonition about his death let alone the possibility of his resurrection; therefore, he never spoke of it to his disciples or anyone else. Instead he conducted his ministry under the impression the kingdom had already arrived (which is what John the Baptist had also preached) and his role was that of special prophet (an office repeatedly attested to throughout the narratives, see passage above) of the end times. He performed signs and wonders in accordance with this office claiming a “special” relationship with God who vouchsafed information to which only he was privy. The urgency which marked his ministry and his disciples after his death was predicated on the conviction the kingdom Jesus previously announced was still due to arrive. The difference now being Jesus by virtue of his ascension and glorification had been given the additional office of “Lord” (Acts 2:36), a term denoting his divinity and special place in the heavens with God. Forgiveness of sins would now be granted in his name because of his sacrificial and substitutionary death.
Christians now, as well as then, who are determined to believe Jesus is the eternal Son of God and the Bible the divine and perfect record of his true identity will rationalize every logical and textual inconsistency to fit this conviction. This is the monumentally difficult task facing those attempting to dismantling the doctrine of inerrancy. No amount of logic or facts can unseat the authority of one’s personal faith experience. This must be born in mind throughout our study.
When it comes to reasonableness, faith is often blind and mostly deaf.
It is noteworthy Peter is the one identifying Jesus as Messiah perhaps indicative of his influence over Mark (Acts 12:12-14, 1 Peter 5:13). The fundamental premise of my theory concerning Jesus messiahship is this only took place in the final week of his life. Prior to this he was content in his prophetic role. It was at the behest of the Passover pilgrims who entertained the idea Jesus might be their political messiah that Jesus also accepted their nomination. There were no doubt many political agitators who would be hoping to spark a revolt and Jesus was a perfect candidate to be their front man.
Following directly on the heels of the messianic secret is the beginning of Jesus’ disclosure concerning his imminent arrest, death and resurrection.
21From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” (Matthew 16:21, also 17:22,23; 20:18,19, also recorded in Mark and Luke)
If we accept this premise, Christians must answer what was the exact nature of his ministry? What was he telling those he healed and taught? It seems only logical he would be preparing everybody for the inevitable and its significance. Remember, as it currently stands, Jesus ministry had negligible effects on Israelites, yet it is to them he ministered exclusively.
The Achilles heel of Christianity
These verses and many others prove Jesus was forthcoming about his death and resurrection. No one can deny the disciples had plenty of opportunity to clarify what would have been an amazing disclosure by Jesus since it directly involved them. As we progress through the narrative and examine Jesus’ many parables and object lessons, the disciples would have had to have been dullards to “forget” about his resurrection but idiotic to doubt it once informed by Mary. She had seen the empty tomb, been informed by angels and spoken with Jesus himself. Yet even her reporting was met with incredulity. If there is an Achilles heel to the resurrection story, this is it.
I mention this here and now to implant it into the readers mind. We will revisit this idea often throughout our journey to illustrate how inconceivable it would have been for ALL the disciples (Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands?) to forget something of such immense significance as their beloved teacher dying and rising from the dead. Attached to it were all the glorious promises of the indwelling spirit, power to live a resurrected life and of course eternal hope. If you believe the narratives, literally nothing seemed to jog the memory of his disciples whether it was the report from the woman or Jesus standing in front of them (Luke 24:36-41). Doubt was ever present.
The one thing Christian tradition was unable to hide was the unbelief of Jesus’ core disciples. I would theorize, based on Matthew and Mark’s accounts to be discussed later, they and a large contingent of his Galilean followers returned to Galilee where they reported his death and failure of his messianic bid.
It is most probable they waited for the end of Passover and the Sabbath before departing. Because the women went to the tomb so earlier that first morning, it is likely they returned to report their findings to the Galilean disciples who were preparing to return to their former vocation as fishermen.
“But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” (Luke 24:11)
The content of this report may have been only the words of the angel but no doubt the possibility of the resurrection was introduced. Perhaps a few disciples (Peter and John) visited the tomb to see with their own eyes and concluded his body had been stolen. They make the long journey back to Galilee. Mary seems to have made repeated visits according to the narratives. During one of which she encountered Jesus himself in some form. Soon people began to believe her sightings.
Fifty days later the Galilean returned to Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost unaware of what awaited them. The resurrection story has gained traction and was spreading among the Jerusalem believers. His Galilean disciples were faced with a dilemma, so they congregate and pray for enlightenment. One by one they too have mystical encounters though some remain “doubters.” We will explore this theme in the next article more fully.
The nature of the kingdom of God
The kingdom of God concept is the most common theme of Jesus’ teaching though no where explicitly taught in the Hebrew Bible. Ultimately, only Yahweh is the true king though allowing human representatives like David through whom to exercise his rule.
The nature of the kingdom is questioned because the obvious interpretation doesn’t fit Christian eschatology. Judaism taught a literal, physical earthly kingdom as part of their eschatology (see Isaiah 65,66) which John the Baptist and Jesus adopted in their gospel. In Jesus’ perfect world, this kingdom was to be established on Israel’s soil during his lifetime with him as king. God would supernaturally intervene and obliterate the Romans and all Gentile nations. Soon after his death and the beginning of the resurrection story, this idea continued to be accepted with a slight modification.
Jesus’ glorification necessitated the addition of a spiritual component to the kingdom idea. Paul was quick to seize on this incorporating it into his developing theology of Gentile inclusion. Obviously, the Hebrew writings were silent on Gentile participation in the kingdom requiring Paul to invent a new teaching. He postulated a spiritual and physical dimension which existed in anticipation of Jesus’ return.
Jews and Gentiles were one. Physical circumcision had been replaced by a circumcision of the heart. At the moment of salvation, believers are spiritually translatedto the heavenly kingdom. Theologians refer to this as positional sanctification.
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves… (Colossians 1:13)
Almost immediately after entering Jerusalem, Jesus begins to teach in parables, a word made up of two words, ‘para’ (preposition meaning “beside”) and ‘bole’ (verb meaning to “throw” or “cast”) or to “throw beside.” The idea being speaking metaphorically or symbolically about one thing to describe another. The trick to understanding its meaning is knowing what is being illustrated by the parable. It can therefore either clarify or conceal truth.
It is assumed the disciples were privy to the true meaning while others listening would only be confused. Christians reading these parables have the benefit of hindsight to unlock their secrets. The gospel writers use is cleverly. It suggests Jesus could teach about his messiahship, return and the future kingdom with some understanding (disciples) and some not understanding. The benefit is one could make the case Jesus did and at the same time did not teach about the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Let’s look at a couple examples.
Mark, arguably the earliest of the gospels, mentions “The parable of the Tenants” which is reiterated in Matthew 21:33-46 and Luke 20:9-19).
1Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 2At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. 3But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. 4Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. 5He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.
6“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’
7“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 8So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.
9“What then will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10Haven’t you read this passage of Scripture:
“ ‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
11the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’ [Psalm 118:22,23] ?”
12Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away.” (Mark 12:1-12, emphasis added)
43“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’ (Matthew 21:43)
Note the ‘ethnei’ (“a people”) clause in Matthew but not found in Mark. It is most likely added by Matthew to show the authors disdain for the religious leaders and his emphasis on participation in the kingdom by “tax collectors and prostitutes” in the previous parable (Matt. 21:32). This is a common tactic used by the gospel writers to castigate the Jewish leaders for rejecting Jesus and praising the lesser of society for accepting him, rather than admit the religious elite may have been right about Jesus after all.
The meaning of this parable is obvious in light of Jesus death and the predicted coming kingdom. However, if this had been spoken prior to his death, no one except the disciples would understand it meaning because it relies on knowledge only they had. It is odd the religious leaders would understand it (vs. 12) yet the disciples did not.
The “servants” are the various prophets throughout Israel’s history (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos etc… ) who were sent to “the tenants,” the religious leaders past and present (vs. 12) to collect a portion of the “fruit.” All these servants were either “beaten or killed” so the owner (Yahweh) sent his son (Jesus) in one final act of desperation. He too was killed. The climax and teaching lesson of the parable is the actions of the owner of the vineyard who will come and kill the bad tenants.
This parable foreshadows the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and his forces (68-70AD) where many of the religious leaders died by Roman swords. Though not original to Jesus, the author chose to put it in his mouth, thereby, blaming the mayhem which is to come on the religious leaders rejection of Jesus as messiah.
In one of the clearest and most graphic texts uttered by Jesus (though not authentic), he has just been declared king by “his disciples and prophesies these words.
41As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognizethe time of God’s coming to you” [literally, “the season of your visitation”] (Luke 19:41-44, emphasis added)
The writer puts these words on the lips of Jesus who places blame for the utter devastation of Jerusalem and its inhabitants (“the children”) on the city for failing to recognize its visitation.
These words too foreshadow the events of 68-70AD which at the time of the writing of these words had already taken place a few years earlier. The important question is when did this “visitation” take place? It can’t be the destruction of the city which is described here as the punishment for “not knowing.” It must therefore be a general description of Jesus’ “visitation” to the earth at his birth (Luke 1:68), but when Jesus is said to have uttered this prediction, he had not yet died and been resurrected. This creates some confusion unless it refers to recognition of him as king which according to the narratives began at his birth (see Matt. 2:1-11, Luke 1:32,33; 2:11).
What we can say with certainty is this prophecy implies in the strongest language a direct correlation between the fall of Jerusalem and death of hundreds of thousands of Israelites by Roman swords and their failure to recognize Jesus as messiah. Those Jews who did acknowledge Jesus found “peace” and those who did not incurred judgment. The beginnings of Christian anti-semitism can be traced to passages such as this one.
Matthew includes another illuminating parable concerning a “Wedding Banquet” which bears reviewing. Unique to Matthew, if we follow the dialogue track (21:23,31,42,45) this parable directed specifically at the religious leaders, again.
1Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
4“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
5“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
8“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
13“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14)
Like the parable of “The Tenants,” God is clearly the “king” and the “son” is Jesus in whose honor the banquet is being given. The original invitees are the religious leaders who decline some of whom eventually kill the king’s servants. In a fit of rage the king sends his army to destroy the murderers and their city.
Here once again is a picture of Jerusalem’s destruction and the death of many of her inhabitants. Notice according to this story, the wedding has already begun. This is not a future event and is in perfect keeping with the then understanding of the kingdom of God.
Next a man who has been “invited” is spotted by the king not wearing “wedding clothes.” He is subsequently bound and thrown out into the darkness “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This graphic picture a favorite of the author (comp. Matt. 8:12; 13:42,50; 24:51; 25:30) carries both a literal and figurative meaning.
In keeping with the customs of the day, the poor and wretched of society would be forced to listen to the sounds of those attending such banquets while they remained locked out in the cold dark night. Matthew gives it a future and far more menacing meaning in his Apocalyptic material. Here it is associated with the coming of the son of man (Jesus) and the cataclysmic judgment attending his arrival.
These early Christian writers witnessed the immense suffering and slaughter when Titus brought his army to bear upon Jerusalem. In their minds, this was God ordained. The punishment enacted upon the Israelites particularly their leaders was deserved. It was payment for how they treated the disciples (most of whom had suffered martyrs deaths at the time of writing) and particularly Jesus. We should emphasize it was always the Jewish religious leaders who were to blame for Jesus death and not the Romans who actually carried it out.
Evangelicals have a dirty little secret and this is it. Their theology expressly teaches the atrocities of 68-70AD were self inflicted and well deserved. Had they accepted Jesus as their divinely appointed messiah, much of this suffering would have been averted. Historically, Christianity which was becoming increasingly Gentile would go even further.
Replacement theology has and continues to dominate Christians understanding of Israel’s place in God’s redemptive program. Traditionally, it was believed Jews gain eternal life the same way everybody does — through Jesus. The ancient promises had been replaced with a new and better way of salvation through Jesus, the high priest (This can be explored in the book of Hebrews).
Literalists, however, must reconcile these “eternal” promises to God’s people with a Christianity void of Jews. Enter premillennial dispensationalism. This is a fascinating topic which deserves our full attention but must wait for a later time.
The “What If” question
Another major problem facing evangelicals is the big, “What if?” What if the Jewish nation had not rejected Jesus as their messiah, would the cross still have been necessary? Would Jesus still have had to die to break the power of sin and death? According to Christian theology, the cross was necessary and inevitable since before the foundation of the world.
“All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast–all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8)
From a humanistic standpoint which posits the cross was not planned and entirely unexpected, it was adapted to early Christians new understanding of Jesus and the kingdom. We must remember they were at the mercy of the writings which suggested this was the intended plan all along.
Although they didn’t realize it then, because their understanding of who Jesus was before his death and who he became after his resurrection, evolved and changed. It began with his earthly ministry, then with Jesus death, then his physical resurrection, then his spiritual ascension, then his failure to return shortly thereafter, then Paul’s gospel of Gentile inclusion, then the events of 70AD, then the failure of Jesus to return again immediately after this and finally his continued absence. The New Testament writings reflect to some degree these many fluctuations which required constant adjustments to Christian teaching.
It is my contention that while these writers have sincerely endeavored to provide a version of Christianity to accommodate these many challenges, those seeking to look hard can see the many cracks in its edifice.
“Thy Kingdom come…”
Once the anticipated kingdom, which Jesus stated had already begun, failed to materialize completely, it was evident John and Jesus were mistaken. This should have been a brief footnote in Jewish history and nothing more. The resurrection story breathed new life into the expected kingdom but once again it died. Enter Paul who revived it and offered a compelling reason for Jesus’ protracted delay — Gentile inclusion. Paul seemed certain he would live to see the Parousia or 2nd Coming but he did not. Finally, the fall of Jerusalem gave Jewish Christians one final glimmer of hope which soon faded as the dust settled and the smoke cleared over the city in rubble. A few Jewish Christian sects would linger around for another century but for all intents and purposes, Jewish Christianity was slowly dying. Repeated failures of the messianic kingdom to arrive had sounded its death knell.
How can Christians explain two thousand years of Jewish rejection of a faith which claims to be the fulfillment of ancient promises? Despite a strong relationship between American evangelicals and Israeli Jews, there have been no appreciable conversions. Remembering most Israelis are non religious, they would still prefer no religion over evangelicalism despite its over zealous attempts to include Israel in its eschatology. One would think they would be converting in droves in light of evangelicals unwavering love and support for Jewish people and promise of their own Millennial kingdom. Yet they continue to ignore them.
Christians have only one answer: spiritual blindness. The only explanation is God has supernaturally made it impossible for Jews to see what is so obvious (according to evangelicals). This entire doctrine hinges on one small phrase:
“… all Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:25a)
But if this is true, this means all Jews past, present and future are guaranteed eternal life. However, this is contradicted throughout the New Testament where Paul makes it very clear Jews and Gentiles are no different from each other in the eyes of God. He has broken down the barrier that once separated them.
14”For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14-16)
Like most theological tensions, it all traces back to the failure of Jesus and the kingdom to appear. Paul’s words in Romans 11 must be interpreted in this historical and eschatological context. The resurrection story was fresh in the minds of everyone. Had Jesus miraculously descended from the clouds with an army of angels, EVER ISRAELITE WOULD HAVE BEEN SAVED! It is unimaginable, hypothetically speaking, any Jew would not have immediately recognize Jesus as the heavenly messiah returning to reclaim Israel and destroy the Romans. For Gentiles, it would be too late. Once Jesus came back the door of salvation which had been open to them until then would be closed.
The compound theory of lies:
The reasons for this and many more inconsistencies and absurdities found throughout Christian doctrine is because it is entirely fabricated. A falsehood is compounded by more falsehoods and so on. Once one accepts the human fallibility factor with underlies it, everything falls neatly into place.
Christianity only makes sense without God. In fact, once you introduce the human factor and remove the God factor, everything about Christianity past and present is perfectly explainable.
Evangelicals are slaves to their fears which forces them to cling to biblical authority like a life raft. They refuse to let go of hope for eternal life which means they hold to a blind inerrancy view. Most do not have any idea of the hundreds of issues which undermine this doctrine but they still believe it. Most when pressed for reasons as to why they believe the Bible to be literally and absolutely true would simply say, “I just know it is.” In truth, it would be better stated, “I just feel it is.”
This article has intentionally touched on multiple issues because understanding the evangelical mind is complicated. It is a faith deeply rooted in emotionalism. Evangelicalism began because men like Wesley and Whitfield were looking for assurance of salvation. Intellectual formalism bereft of feeling was seen as insufficient when put up against a profound religious experience.
Feeling saved is far more powerful than mere mental ascent. Evangelicalism combines both but stresses the former as indispensable to the latter.
Labelling evangelicals as anti-science or anti-intellectual is a mischaracterization and unfair. They happily embrace both so long as they don’t overstep their bounds in the eyes of evangelicals. When manmade disciplines like philosophy and science encroach on God’s territory of the supernatural and miraculous, they are staunchly resisted and demeaned.
I have said many times, the end of my faith was not like a wrecking ball toppling a building in a few minutes. Mine was a slow and steady erosion over many years of meticulous and dedicated discovery. I refused to stop investigating and exploring the doubts I had until I found the answers I needed.
It took me a lifetime, literally, because I have had no one to guide the way. These have been uncharted waters where few have gone before. With this in mind, I sincerely hope the many times I got lost and had to re-navigate my way will serve as a map for others. I am not telling anyone to believe what I believe only to not assume what you believe is true just because your “heart” tell you to.
Feelings are fantastic but we must never allow them to control and suppress our faculties of reason. The two must work in tandem. It is imperative we realize while emotions can be misleading, rationality is far more dependable. The challenge is to resist one’s emotional urge to ignore the evidence long enough to see things in the glaring light of reason.
Dare to know!