For People of the Promise 10 interactive studies unfolding the message of the Scriptures
Introduction Shalom and welcome. The aim of this series of ten studies is to help readers gain a bird’s eye view of the Bible, and a clear understanding of its message. The studies were specially created with Jewish people in mind. Whether you know the Holy Scriptures well, or whether you have hardly ever read them, we are confident you will find help here. These studies can be done individually but they are designed for interactive, one-to-one study, in pairs, and they could be used for study in a group. There are short written sections of introduction and explanation but gaining a full understanding relies on a proper study of the questions posed in the To investigate and To think about sections (in boxes). If you do not know the Scriptures well then having someone with you who does will be a great help. At the top of the page where each study commences is the book, or books, of the Bible that the study draws upon. Because these studies are an overview this may be a large section. You are not meant to read it all. The idea is to help you know where we are in the Scriptures in that study. The order of the books of the Bible used in Besorah is that of English Bibles (see page 51 for a full list), an order used by Jewish scholars for their Greek version of the Hebrew Bible produced around 200BC (called the Septuagint). There is a note at the beginning of each study that recommends a passage of the Scriptures to read prior to that particular study. Studying the Scriptures stimulates us in all sorts of ways but its most important stimulus is to inspire us to seek God and come to know him and his forgiveness through his Messiah. As king David wrote: “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” Another psalmist wrote, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law;” a good prayer to pray before you begin each study. Note: Besorah is the Hebrew word for good news
Genesis (Bereshit) 1 - 3
IN THE BEGINNING To read prior to this study: Genesis 1-3
God the Creator
When you are really full of joy about something you just want to share it with others. Well, God is the supremely contented and joyful being, and he made us, and the whole world, to share in that joy. He created the whole universe in which we live, and it shows his glory, wisdom and power. Humans are the summit of his creation, being made in his image, which means we are moral beings who can intelligently relate to each other and God, and we are to organise and rule the earth. In these chapters we see Godâ€™s love for humans and his plan for them to grow in love for him and one another.
To investigate 1. Read Genesis1:31. What is Godâ€™s verdict on his creation, including humans?
2. In Genesis 2 what teaches us that humans are intelligent, moral creatures?
3. Look at these verses: Genesis 2:9,16,18. What do they tell us about God?
4. How were the first two humans to grow in love for God (Genesis 2:17,18) and each other (Genesis 2:15, 21-23)?
5. Read Acts 17:24-28 to see how the New Testament underlines these truths.
From the heights to the depths
“How ungrateful can you get!” Ever heard those words? Embarrassing, even crushing, aren’t they? They are the words we would expect to hear from God after the first humans, Adam and Eve, disobeyed him. Adam and Eve were created with the moral freedom to obey or disobey God and that would have been tested through seeing the tree whose fruit they were forbidden to eat. By being obedient to that one prohibition, and enjoying the sheer abundance of all God had made for them, they grew in love for him. So how could anything go wrong? From outside of their world came suggestions which encouraged them to see everything in a different light; to see God as mean and restricting, and to see themselves as having the potential to live free of God. Does that sound familiar? In fact it is so familiar to human thinking that we can hardly imagine there was a time when no one thought that way. Adam and Eve swallowed the lie and suffered the consequences. They disobeyed God’s only prohibition. Guilt entered human experience, as did the desire to hide away from God. The blame game began: it was God’s fault, her fault, its fault; not their fault. Death soon followed - both spiritual and physical.
To investigate 1. How do the tempter’s words in Genesis 3:1 present God as mean?
2. Read Genesis 3:12. How did Adam try to blame it all on God?
3. Did Adam and Eve say “sorry”? .
4. Read Genesis 5:1-3. How does it help us to understand the similarity between our experience and Adam’s? Read 1 Corinthians 15:21,22 to see how the New Testament expresses the same truth.
God’s rescue plan
If it were up to us we would probably have washed our hands of Adam and Eve. How different God is! He immediately announces his rescue package, and the emphasis is all on what he will do. It’s not clear that Adam and Eve even wanted to be helped. What he plans is to change their attitude to the tempter and his way of thinking. In the place of agreement there will be hostility. But he also plans that one of their offspring will destroy the power of the tempter forever. No details are given, but the words create hope.
To investigate 1. What metaphorical language did Moses use to express this change of attitude? See Deuteronomy (Bemidbar) 30:6. Read how Jesus teaches the same thing in John 3:3-10.
2. Read Genesis 3:15 again. Does this special offspring have an easy victory or suffer in the process?
These three chapters are only a small part of the Bible but they are big on significance. In the rest of the Bible we see the development of all these themes, especially God’s rescue plan.
Think it through 1. What can you see in yourself that shows you are made in God’s image?
2. What can you see in yourself that shows you to be like Adam and Eve after they disobeyed?
3. Think about Israel’s deliverers, e.g. Joseph, Moses, David etc. Do you see a pattern, that all God’s deliverers suffer as they deliver? Does Jesus fit this pattern?
Genesis (Bereshit) 12 : 1 - 5
To read prior to this study: Genesis 12
The downward spiral
We have jumped forward several hundred years. This does not mean nothing of significance happened in the intervening period, but it was all part of a ‘bad to worse’ scenario, and the story of Abraham stands out from it all like an oasis in a desert.
To investigate 1. Look at Genesis 6:5. What is the cause of humanity’s evil behaviour?
2. God judged the world by a flood but preserved Noah and his family, and some of each species. Were things any better after the flood? See Genesis 8:20,21.
3. What does Genesis 8:21,22 and 9:12-15 tell us about why humanity is still here?
A new focus
Some countries have special schools for very able children so they can develop their full potential and, later on, benefit their community as fully as possible. That is what God now does for the world through Abraham. Not that Abraham was remarkably different, as we shall see, but God’s plan was for him to live in a different place, even separating him from his wider family and
there to begin to teach him, and his own family, about him and his ways. And Abraham went! At 75 years old most of us are ready to stay put, and we are certainly not contemplating cutting our ties with our wider family. Abraham was on a steep learning curve.
To investigate 1. Who took the initiative in all this? God or Abraham? See Genesis 12:1
2. Read Genesis 12:1-3. Briefly run through what God promised to Abraham.
3. Abraham was in the school of faith, learning about God and about trusting in him. What do Genesis 13:8-17 and 12:11-20 tell us about his successes and failures?
Rock solid promises
If you are going to go out on a limb you want to be sure that it’s comfortable and strong. When God told Abraham to leave both country and people he gave him plenty of encouragements. The bottom line was that a great nation would come from him, which would be blessed by God. So much so, that God’s attitude to others would be determined by their attitude to this nation. Abraham himself would be renowned. And last, but certainly not least, the world would eventually experience God’s goodness through Abraham and his people. At this point the theme of God’s rescue package reappears, and it is clear that Abraham is the one through whom the plan will develop. Just in case all this is not enough God makes a covenant (the bris) with Abraham that he will do all these things. Abraham was entitled to be shell-shocked - and also awed and joyful. We might have expected God to choose someone youthful, from one of the great powers of the day, but he chose one ordinary, elderly person. Why? – it focuses on God’s power. This encourages any of us, however weak, to obey God’s call.
To investigate 1. How old was Abraham when he left for Canaan? See Genesis 12:4 (Sarah was just a few years younger.) No one finds it easy to change their religious beliefs, especially older people; yet God expected it of them. How do you feel about the thought of such a change?
2. God said he would bless Abraham. Look at the following verses in Genesis to see aspects of this in Abraham’s life: 13:1,2; 14:20; 15:18; 21:2; 17:7; 18:17; 18:23-26
Did Abraham go to synagogue?
OK, silly question. But just how did he worship God? The first religious activity of Abraham which we read about took place as soon as he arrived in the land which was to become his home. He built an altar and offered a sacrifice, and he “called upon the name of the LORD.” (Genesis 12:7,8) There was a lifestyle to be lived, described as “keeping the way of the LORD”, and its priorities were righteousness and justice, for him, his family and his employees. There is no separation in God’s mind between the fulfilment of his rescue plans and the faithful obedience of those he chooses. Furthermore, we can say God was not a far-off God to him. God spoke to him and Abraham spoke to God. Their relationship was personal.
Think it through 1. God said Abraham would be renowned and he certainly was, and is. I visited Hampton Court Palace, near London, when the main hall was being prepared for a royal banquet. As I watched the preparations from the balcony I was struck by a vast tapestry along one side of the hall; the sole subject was the Akedah, Abraham offering Isaac as a sacrifice. As I imagined some of the crowned heads of Europe gathering there that night I could not help smiling at how God’s promise would yet again be fulfilled – that he would make Abraham’s name great. What other ways has God kept his promises to Israel?
2. A Rabbinic Midrash teaches that Abraham’s encounter with God began because he had some insight that there was only one God. He proceeded to smash his family’s household idols, and, so to speak, started a new religion. Is there anything in what you have read so far to support such an idea?
3. Abraham is famous through the world today and people from many nations worship the God of Abraham. How has this come about? Who does this point to as the offspring of Abraham through whom God would bless the families of the earth?
4. Ever since the beginning, when God said to Adam and Eve “Where are you?”, God has been calling men and women, boys and girls. How do you think he is calling you at this time?
Exodus (Shemot) 12 : 1 - 42
FREEDOM! To read prior to this study: Exodus 12
Pesach - “the festival of our freedom”
Freedom is a heady sort of word! History is full of exciting stories of liberation from one type of slavery or another, but none so dramatic as Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage. And none is so elaborately retold and celebrated as in the Passover Seder year after year. Israel’s beginnings in Abraham and his son Isaac were small, but with Jacob things began to take off – a family became a nation. The family’s stay in Egypt began as a comfortable refuge from famine but later turned into an oppressive nightmare of hard unpaid labour and the murder of their newborn sons, all to keep them down. It was the beginning of what is now known as ‘the longest hatred’ – anti-Semitism. God was not indifferent to their sufferings; he was moved with compassion. That is where the exodus story starts, as God said to Moses: “I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:7,8)
To investigate 1. What were the main elements of the Passover in Exodus 12? (see v3-7, v8,9; v11; v12; v15; v26.) Is your family Seder any different? 2. The Rabbis were rightly aware that the deliverance from Egypt portrayed a greater deliverance for Israel through the Messiah, and because of this they expected Messiah would come at the time of Pesach. That is why there is a cup for Elijah at the Seder, because he announces Messiah’s coming. Thinking back to our first study, what slavery does God’s promised deliverer save us from? See Genesis 6:5. Also, look at Romans 8:7,8 to see how the New Testament describes this slavery.
3. Here we see one reason for anti-Semitism – fear of Jewish strengths. Another is revealed by Pharaoh’s response to Moses, in Exodus 5:2. What is it?
God’s deliverers - Moses and Messiah
Why choose Moses? The man seemed to lack all self-confidence! Certainly not a candidate for a place on any board of management. But Moses had three special qualifications: he was an Israelite, he was academically prepared by forty years in the Egyptian court, and spiritually prepared by forty years as a shepherd in the Sinai. Only then was he ready to lead Israel to freedom. His confidence was in the LORD, the God of Israel. We expect Messiah to be a similar sort of person.
To investigate 1. Read about Moses’ preparation in Exodus 2:1-10; 2:11-15; 3:1-4; 4:10-13. At the end of it all, in 4:13, why do you think he is so hesitant?
2. Read how the prophets tell us that Messiah will have similar credentials to Moses. He is an Israelite (see 2 Samuel 7:12,13), he learns (see Isaiah 50:4,5), he learns to trust in adversity (Isaiah 50:7-9).
3. Does Jesus have these credentials? An Israelite of David’s line? (see Luke 1:30-35) Taught by God? (John 8:26-29) Trusting in God in adversity? (Luke 4:1-13)
Deliverance by the defeat of the oppressor
So often the oppressor seems to get away with it, but not in the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. The LORD plans to show his greatness and so, by a series of plagues, Egypt is reduced to a shadow of her former glory. As she had afflicted others so she suffers discomfort; her profits from slavery evaporate, and her gods are exposed as powerless (e.g. three days of total darkness show Ra, the Egyptian sun God, to be nothing.) Pharaoh’s initial response to Moses was no, no, no; eventually it was go, go, go. When we think of freedom from the oppression of sin we need to reckon with the one who got us there. Back in our first study we encountered a tempter, and he has not gone away. His aim, then and now, is to keep humans in rebellion against God. In the Bible he is usually called Satan, which means adversary. As Israel was powerless to escape Pharaoh’s grip, so humans are helpless against this adversary. But Messiah is not. That was the hope contained in that very first promise to Adam and Eve. But if Pharaoh did not give up without a struggle, one in which he and Moses were locked in conflict, then we may expect Messiah to have a fight on his hands.
To investigate 1. How is the greatness of God’s power over Pharaoh demonstrated by the simple fact that the bread of the Israelites was unleavened? See Exodus 12:33,34.
2. Read about one of the many confrontations between Jesus and the adversary’s power in Luke 4:31-37. What impressed the bystanders?
3. Read 1 John 3:8. The New Testament describes Jesus’ work in terms of a victory over Satan’s works, which have enslaved humans to sin. Good news! In what area of life would you like help?
Deliverance by a death
The Seder is all about remembering but the ritual is a bit lop-sided, because there is a lot about matzah and relatively little about the dying of the Passover lamb. Perhaps this is inevitable, as the sacrifices of Bible days are no longer possible. Each Israelite house in Egypt chose a lamb, killed it and ate it on the 14th Nisan. Its blood was put on the doorpost and the lintel of the entrance to their home and God promised, “When I see the blood I will pass over you” (Exodus 12:13). That night the first-born of the Egyptians died but not those of the Israelites. The message was clear – Israelites and Egyptians were equally deserving of death for their sins, but for Israel God graciously provided a substitute to take the penalty they deserved. From all this we learn that Israel’s deliverance was not simply a matter of God manifesting raw power over Pharaoh. There was the problem of delivering Israel from their own sins. For that God provided another to die in their place. We should expect Messiah’s deliverance to be no different – there must be the death of a substitute if he is to deliver us from our sins.
Think it through 1. Was Israel’s deliverance from Egypt the end of the story or just the beginning? Was it a fresh start or the end of the road?
2. Would you like a fresh start in life? In what way?
3. The fresh start which God offers us is power to overcome the moral failure which dogs us, and a slate wiped clean of the sins of the past. Read these promises in the Bible: Jeremiah 31:31-33; John 3:3; Jeremiah 31:34; Luke 24:46,47; Matthew 11:28-30
Exodus (Shemot) 20 - 24
LIFESTYLE & HOME
To read prior to this study: Exodus 20-24 and Numbers 14
Freedom for what?
“You gotta serve somebody,” sang Bob Dylan, one of the foremost songwriters of the 60s movement for ‘freedom’. Experience had taught him there is no such thing as absolute freedom. Israel was about to learn that being free to serve God in his way was true freedom. After Egypt God led his people to Mount Sinai, where he gave them laws for the lifestyle he had planned for them, in the land to which they were going. He also told them how they could approach him, and even invited their leaders to eat a meal in his presence. He is no ‘arms length’ God!
To investigate 1. What more could any people want? Read these verses to see what God had planned for Israel: Deuteronomy (Devarim) 16:13-15; 28:11,12; 28:7; Leviticus (Vayikra) 16:30; 26:11-13.
2. In Isaiah 61:1-3 the prophet writes of Messiah’s days in similar terms but with a stronger emphasis on the spiritual life. What do you find especially attractive in his words? John records words of a similar nature which Jesus spoke in John 10:10
God’s Laws for Israel’s lifestyle
It must have been an awesome experience. About two million Israelites gathered at the base of a mountain which seemed to be on fire with smoke all around it, frequent claps of thunder, a trumpet sound growing louder and louder, and then a voice spoke – audible to all! Even Moses was trembling.
What we now know as the Ten Words, or Ten Commandments, were heard by all, and later God called Moses up the mountain and gave them to him on two stone tablets, as well as all the other laws, which Moses wrote down. Those laws covered approaching God, personal behaviour, treatment of servants, personal injury, property rights, social behaviour, justice and mercy, the Sabbath and festivals.
To investigate 1. Choose a word or phrase to describe each of the different categories of laws in Exodus 20:1-17, 22-26; 21:12,13; 22:1,16,17; 23:1,2; 14
2. Most of the Ten Commandments are phrased negatively (“You shall not…”) What does this tell you about God’s view of our basic moral disposition?
3. Read the Sabbath laws in Exodus 20:8-11 and 23:12. Was the Sabbath meant to be a burden or a blessing? Did God give a mass of detailed regulations or a few basic instructions? How does traditional Judaism compare? Read Jesus’ pithy statement about the Sabbath in Mark 2:27. What do you think he meant?
Come! - the approachable God
Some children are cautious by nature and need cajoling and sweet language to get them to relax with you. With some, whatever you do, they are still nervous. After the giving of the Ten Commandments we might have expected Israel to run a mile in the opposite direction. Maybe that is why the first thing that follows them is God’s instructions on how to come to him. It is God’s way of saying, “Despite your failure, there is a way to come to me. Come.” Again we notice a sacrificial death has to take place (Exodus 20:24-26). Make no mistake about it, God wanted Israel to come, and he even prescribed three special annual festivals when all the men were to appear before him (Exodus 23:17).The intimacy God envisaged was expressed at Sinai when he told Moses and the leaders of Israel to
come up the mountain, where they saw a vision of God and ate a meal in his presence (Exodus 24:9-11). An amazing experience!
To investigate 1. Do you think of God as a person? Is he far off, or near?
2. God commanded Israel to bring sacrifices. What sacrifice can you bring today to approach God? In the New Testament one book, Hebrews, was especially written for Jewish people. Read Hebrews 9:24-28 and 10:19-22 describing Messiah’s sacrifice.
There’s no place like home - as long as…
The desert of Sinai was not home. The land God had promised to their forefathers beckoned for Israel, and on first investigation it looked good – their spies returned with descriptions of an abundance of everything. What was more, it was not undeveloped but full of towns and villages and cultivated fields. They just had to walk in and settle down. Well almost, there was one snag – it was inhabited. And some of the inhabitants looked rather formidable, so Israel backed away from the conflict despite God’s promises to be with them.
To investigate 1. What caused fear in the spies? Read Numbers 13:31-33? 2. Read in Exodus 23:22-30 the promise the LORD gave to Israel at Sinai. What more could he have said? What evidence did they have already of His power to defeat superior enemies? How would you have reacted in those circumstances?
40 long years…then home
God’s response to their failure to trust him was to send them back into the desert for forty years. What would that have been like? The sense of repetitiveness and futility must have been overwhelming, made worse by an awareness that God was displeased with them. But Israel eventually entered the land which God had promised. What a picture of the life of those who fail to trust God, and turn their backs on him! However many good things may be possessed and enjoyed there remains a sense of futility and repetitiveness. There is also an inescapable sense that God is displeased. But there is hope. As God was patient with Israel, and eventually they entered the land, so too we can turn back to him and be sure he will receive us.
Think it through 1. Is there any way in which you feel you are in a desert?
2. When you look back over this part of Israel’s history what impresses you most?
3. At various points in our studies we have asked you to consider Jesus as God’s promised deliverer, the Messiah. He can be seen as the spiritual reality of the promised land – the one who gives abundant life. You may be thinking of ‘entering’. What makes you afraid and holds you back? Read John 16:33. Jesus warns it is not easy to follow him in this world, but our confidence is to be that he has already overcome all opposition and will help us to do the same.
Judges - 2 Chronicles (Shofetim - Divre Hayyamim)
To read prior to this study: Judges 2; 2 Samuel 7
God’s Ideal Home Exhibition
Many Jewish people today are city dwellers and may not look upon a predominantly agricultural lifestyle as ideal. However, that was not the only difference between Israelite society then and the Jewish community life today, the structure of God’s society in the Bible was unique. But first it will be helpful to step back a bit and set things in a time context. Israel’s history from Abraham to the destruction of the second temple fits into three roughly equal time periods. From Abraham to entering Canaan under Joshua was about 760 years, living in the land under Jewish rule was about 680 years and then living in the land under foreign rule lasted approximately another 600 years. In this study we look at the middle period, God’s ideal situation, when Israel lived as a community under God. It is a long period! Like an era stretching back from our day to the Mongol invasions of China and Russia, or to the expulsion of the Jews from Britain. In this middle period we read about judges, priests, kings and prophets who led the nation.
To investigate 1. The events in the book of Ruth took place in this era. Read Ruth 2:1-12. What does it tell you about day-to-day life in those days?
2. Read 2 Chronicles 9: 13-28, which describes royal court life at its peak. What impresses you?
At the start of this period there was no national king, only priests, prophets and judges (all aided by local leaders). This could be described as the ideal-ideal period of Israel’s history. Most lived a rural lifestyle, taught in God’s ways by the priests who also led the worship of God. To us, the lack of a visible national leader (Prime Minister, President etc.) may be unnerving, but that is where faith came in. Israel was to ‘see’ God as their leader. However, prophets and judges had to appear from time to time. They were God’s way of putting the people back on the rails when they were going off them. Yes, like us, the people did not always do the right thing. To point this out God sent prophets to warn them, and if that was not enough then foreign nations invaded and made Israel’s life miserable. Judges were men (except one - Deborah) who fought off the invaders and some also had the gifts to act like circuit judges, teaching, guiding and adjudicating by the law of Moses.
To investigate 1. Read Judges 3:7-11. The passage describes an oft-repeated scenario. What was the first step in everything going wrong?
2. God’s ways are the same today. Can you see any evidence of serious troubles in national life which are making people turn back to God?
3. Th e fortunes of the Jewish people over the past 2,000 years have been full of highs and lows. Do you think there are any similarities to the time of the Judges?
4. What about your own life? Do you recognise times when God has allowed troubles which have encouraged you to turn back to him? What means are you using to ‘keep yourself on the rails’?
We are still in our ideal period, but what was less than ideal was that Israel demanded a king. They wanted to see their ruler. God graciously instituted a
kingship, which became a hereditary system, the most famous father and son being David and Solomon. Israel’s kings ranged from the good, like David who was faithful to the LORD, to the bad, like Jeroboam, who led Israel into syncretistic religion, and the ugly, like Manasseh, who adopted child sacrifice as a religious practice.
To investigate 1. What was Samuel’s response when Israel asked for a king? See 1 Samuel 8:4-6. Why? See verse 7. Who, or what, is king in your life?
2. Where would you place yourself among Israel’s kings? With the good, the bad or the ugly?
3. The Christian church has always seen continuity between herself and Israel. Should we therefore expect to see similar faults in the churches as we have seen in Israel of old?
We often think of prophets as foretellers of the future, which some certainly were, but most of their time was spent very much in the present, calling their own generation back to the LORD. Some wrote things down, others left nothing in writing. For example, Elijah and Elisha focused entirely on their generation, even starting schools for prophets, to train the next generation to teach Godâ€™s law. Men like Isaiah and Jeremiah left lengthy writings. All interacted with their people, and at every level of Israelite society.
To investigate 1. Read Hosea 6:1-3. Hosea lived toward the end of this period. Do you think he is speaking to his generation or to future ones? What does he say to us today?
2. Read Isaiah 7:1-9. Isaiah is foretelling events which would soon happen. The Bible is not like a horoscope. Why did God reveal this detail of the immediate future to his people? See Isaiah 7:9b.
3. Read Micah 4:1-5. This is foretelling something far off from Micahâ€™s days. Has anything in this prophecy begun to happen? Do you know of an event foretold in the Scriptures for which you should prepare?
In this study we have thought of Canaan as an ideal home for Israel. This does not mean it was God’s plan for things to always stay exactly as we have just seen them in this study. Clearly, the days of the Messiah were the great hope, and then there would be changes. But the basics would always be the same – God’s people loving him, living his way, approaching him in the way he had revealed and rejoicing in his grace and goodness.
Think it through 1. Read the book of Ruth (before next time). Can you imagine living in those days? What would you find attractive? Would you have welcomed Ruth to Israel?
2. Today the Jewish people appear to lack most, if not all, of the leadership roles that God created for their government (judges, priests, kings, prophets). How do you view this?
3. We will consider this matter in more detail later, but read these verses to see how the New Testament presents Jesus as king (John 18:33-37), as prophet (Matthew 5:17-26; 24:1-28), as priest (Hebrews 9:11,12), and as judge (Revelation 2:12-17).
2 Chronicles - Malachi (Divre Hayyamim - Malakhi)
TO BABYLON & BACK
To read prior to this study: Jeremiah 25:1-14, 29:10-14 & 2 Chronicles 36:15-23
Ups and downs
From our daily diet of news we are familiar with the ups and downs of the stock market. The general hope, and particularly of investors, is that the overall trend is up. That was not the case for Israel in their relationship with the LORD during the period we have been thinking about. There were ups and downs, but the general trend was down. A typical example of those ups and downs is seen in King Ahaz and his son Hezekiah. Ahaz was described as one who was “provoking to anger the LORD God of his fathers”, whereas Hezekiah, who reigned after him, turned back to the LORD – “He did what was good and right and faithful before the LORD his God.” During the ‘ups’ Israel knew prosperity and a measure of peace, but the ‘downs’ led to bad harvests, foreign invasions etc. However, none of those troubles compared with the banishment to Babylon for 70 years. That was a national catastrophe. Many died during the Babylonian invasion.
To investigate 1. Jewish people today are familiar with an exile situation (called galut or diaspora.) For many it has become a familiar and not uncomfortable way of life. The shock of Babylon has long since dissipated. But there have been some other great shocks in Jewish history. Which ones come most readily to mind?
70 long years in Babylon - why?
Well, it wasn’t as if no one was aware of the danger. In Israel’s earliest days as a nation Moses had warned, “But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God… the LORD will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known.” (Deuteronomy 28:15,36)
To us this may sound severe but we need to remember that God patiently encouraged Israel in his ways for 640 years before that extreme point was reached. All sorts of foreign deities began to be publicly worshipped in the land and Israel’s God was seen as one among many. What would you think if you went to a synagogue for a family wedding and saw a side room marked “Buddha Room”, where there was a statue of the Buddha and people offering incense? That’s how bad it got in the Temple at Jerusalem. But still God held back the punishment of exile. We need to see the captivity spiritually. Israel was still God���s nation but exile to Babylon meant being cut off from the place where he promised to reveal himself and bless them. They were off into a spiritual wilderness. Did it all achieve anything? It certainly did. Idol worship never appeared again among the Jewish people. It was gone forever. Israel’s great role was to bring the knowledge of the LORD to the nations of the world, nations still in the darkness of idol worship. Now they were ready for it.
To investigate 1. Read these examples to see the ever-increasing unfaithfulness in Israel: 1 Samuel 2:12-17; 1 Kings 11:4-8; 1 Kings 12:25-29; 2 Chronicles 28:24-25. 2. Read some words of the prophets who warned of the consequences of unfaithfulness: Isaiah 39:3-7 (150 years before Babylon); Jeremiah 25:8-12 (just before the exile); Ezekiel 5:11-13 (spoken in Babylon). 3. Were God’s goals achieved? Read of the priorities of the first returnees from Babylon in Ezra 3:1,2. 4. There is a lesson in the time scale of all this. Some think that when Messiah comes the world will improve almost instantly. However, if it took 640 years + 70 years to purge Israel of all idol worship, how long might it take to do the same for all the nations in Messiah’s days? Consider Psalm 90:4.
A future and a hope
The familiar phrase ‘where there is life there is hope’ can be reversed – ‘where there is hope there is life.’ The LORD gave his people Israel plenty of reasons to have hope for a much better day after Babylon. Moses had written: “The LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, and he will gather you again…” (Deuteronomy 30:3) And there was much more from other prophets. However, if all that lay ahead was a return to an identical situation there would be reason for pessimism, but the LORD made it clear something different was coming. Messiah would make all the difference for Israel, and for the world.
To investigate 1. R ead how Isaiah describes Israel’s return to their land in Isaiah 35. How does he use the physical as a metaphor for the spiritual?
2. J eremiah writes at length about the return in chapters 30-33. Read 30:1-3; 31:23; 31:31-34. This is not a mere return to the land is it? Read 33:14-16. Who is this speaking about?
3. Th e hope of the prophets included the Gentiles knowing Israel’s God. Read Malachi 1:11. What is unusual about it?
4. R ead Zechariah 2: 7-11 (he was a prophet in Israel after the return from Babylon). The passage contains a typical sequence of events: the return from Babylon, punishment of their oppressors, God coming among them (via Messiah), joy, the Gentile nations incorporated into God’s people. What is noticeable by its absence is any mention of a further but much longer period of captivity before the days of special blessing. What do we learn from that?
Waiting and watching
Everyone likes presents, and some are not good at waiting to open them, especially children. But Israel had to wait for nearly 600 years for theirs. That is a long time! In many ways life just carried on as normal, except that almost all the time was spent under the boot of foreign empires. The attempts of those empires to turn Israel away from the LORD, involving some periods of severe persecution, all failed. Hanukah commemorates one such failure. The Law and the Temple became more and more central to Israelâ€™s life, as God kept them faithful and prepared them for Messiahâ€™s appearance. Some people like to try and guess what their present is by inspecting it before opening it, or feeling its shape. Something similar happened in Israel when people examined the prophecies to try and put together a picture of the expected Messiah. They wanted to be able to recognise him when he came. It was not easy, as we shall see in the next study.
Think it through 1. When the opportunity came to return to Jerusalem the fact is that most stayed where they had settled (Iraq & Iran today). Relatively few went back to the ruins and desolations of their homeland. What would you have done? Choosing to go Godâ€™s way is never easy. Are you prepared to suffer discomfort and loss for it?
2. It is not necessary to be a scholar to discover what the prophets wrote about Messiah, but some energy and effort is required. Are you willing to make the effort?
Genesis to Malachi (Bereshit - Malakhi)
MESSIAH’S PUZZLING PORTRAIT To read prior to this study: Psalm 2; Isaiah 53
Studying the portrait
Puzzle makers seem to cut the pieces to make things difficult, don’t they? That is not the case with God and his revelation about the Messiah. Nevertheless, working things out is a bit like doing a puzzle. At the end of our last study we saw Israel back in the land after the 70 years in Babylon and settling down again to normal, daily life, except it was under the rule of foreign powers. As they waited for Messiah some studied the Scriptures to try and piece together what was revealed of this coming one. In this study we are going to join them. We might wonder at times why God did not just give us a complete word picture in one passage. Why all these separate bits scattered about the Scriptures? Why make it hard? A few things need to be considered. By putting the revelations of Messiah in different passages God has put each one in a particular context, and that context helps us to understand the revelation about Messiah. Without God’s context we start to think of Messiah in the context of our hopes and goals, which are invariably warped by self and sin. Also, it may be that God is saying, “Are you really interested to know?” What is worth knowing is worth making an effort to understand. Finally, we need to remember that God does not reveal the future so that we know every detail beforehand. He’s not like a fortune-teller. He reveals it so that when it happens we can see it is him at work, because as we look again at what was revealed we see how it all fits together. In that way he keeps us trusting and humble.
To investigate 1. What is the basic purpose of Messiah’s coming? Read Micah 4:1-5.
2. Read again God’s first promise of a deliverer in Genesis 3:15. What are the two experiences of the deliverer put before us?
3. Were Israel’s patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) aware of this promise? Read Genesis 49:10.
The early pieces of the puzzle
Before the end of king David’s reign (which is about half way between Abraham and the destruction of the second temple) God had revealed most of the fundamental truths about Messiah. Most of what was revealed came through two of Israel’s greatest leaders, Moses and David. By then Israel had learnt of the coming deliverer as a prophet-teacher, a king-deliverer, the Son of God and a priest. It seemed as though the three leadership roles in Israel were destined to come together in the work of the Messiah.
To investigate 1. Moses once warned Israel against false prophets and in the same breath spoke of a special prophet to come. Read Deuteronomy 18:14-18. What points to his uniqueness? Is this prophet greater than Moses? Compare v18 with Numbers 20:7-12
2. In 2 Samuel 7:12-17 God promises David that his dynasty would last foreforever. Does this point to one special descendant? See how Jeremiah understands this promise in Jeremiah 23:5,6.
3. In Psalm 2 the focus is on the universal reign of Messiah. God’s king, described in v6, is the Messiah because he is described as “his anointed’ in v2 (the Hebrew word for anointed is mashiach, which is rendered ‘Messiah’ in English when it is a title for this deliverer.) What response to him is expected from Jews and Gentiles (see v10-12)? What does the title “my Son” tell us about Messiah’s relationship to God?
4. Psalm 110 is another Psalm of David and it is very similar to Psalm 2. Which expressions in Psalm 110 point to this similarity? What is new in Psalm 110 (see v4)? How would you define a priest?
5. Read Genesis 14:18-20. What two offices did Melchizedek hold? What does this tell us about Messiah?
More of the same
The prophets who came later further elaborated the characteristics of Messiah that we have already examined, and we need to look at them briefly. As these prophets called Israel to faithfulness to the LORD they also pointed their hearers to the Messianic hope.
To investigate 1. Read Malachi 3:1-5. How do we know this is about the coming deliverer? Which role of Messiah does he focus upon (see v5)? Will it be comfortable to hear what Messiah has to say?
2. Read Isaiah 9:6,7. What tells you these verses are about Messiah? What do the names that Isaiah gives to Messiah tell us about him?
3. Jeremiah wrote of a New Covenant (31:31-34). How do you see it as different from the covenant made through Moses at Sinai? Which promises of the New Covenant attract you?
The surprise element
If we think back to that original promise in Genesis 3:15 we notice that one experience of the deliverer has not yet been touched upon in all the prophecies we have examined – he is one who suffers in bringing the world back to God. Whatever else we might have guessed at in the puzzle, here is something which takes us by surprise. And yet, should it surprise us? We noted earlier that all of Israel’s great leaders suffered as they brought God’s deliverance in their generation.
To investigate 1. ‘Like father like son’; if Messiah is the Son of David then we should expect that he will not only inherit David’s throne but also gain it by a similar pathway – one of struggle and suffering. How does Psalm 22 confirm this to us?
2. Read Isaiah 42:1,2. Here we begin to be introduced to God’s ServantMessiah. How do we know this is about Messiah? Read Isaiah 50:5,6 where the Servant-Messiah is speaking (we can work that out from v10). Which words indicate he is opposed and suffers?
3. Isaiah 52:13 to 53:12 is the most detailed passage on the sufferings of the Servant-Messiah. Look at these verses: 52:13; 53:1,3,5,6,8,11. What does each verse tell us about him, and about why these things are happening to him?
Do the pieces fIt?
So we have an acclaimed teacher, a ruler of Israel and all the world, one who is rejected and who suffers, and a priest. During the Second Temple period a number of books were written which contained ideas on how some of the pieces fitted together. They mention the Prophet, the Heavenly Melchizedek, the Son of man, and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel. The later rabbis taught about two Messiahs: a defeated warrior who dies and a victorious ruler. In our next study we will examine the New Testament interpretation, one Messiah with two phases to his ministry.
To think about 1. Forget the puzzle for a moment. Do you see why we need someone to fulfil all these roles â€“ an authoritative teacher, a wise and strong ruler, a priest and a sacrifice for our sin? In short, a divine deliverer. Do you feel your need for such a person?
Matthew - 1 John
JESUS: FITTING IT ALL TOGETHER To read prior to this study: John 4:1-26
Having the picture helps!
Some people like the challenge of doing a puzzle without the picture, but having the picture definitely helps. Before Messiah came no one was confident they had put the pieces together in such a way as to make sense. John 4 tells us of a Samaritan woman who said of Messiah, “When he comes he will tell us all things.” She was obviously expecting Messiah to make things clear. It goes without saying that God had the picture, which he gave to Messiah to reveal to us. We can be confident that when the Messiah comes the pieces will fall into place.
To investigate 1. Read Isaiah 50:4. What does this verse tell us of the learning experience of the Servant-Messiah? Did Jesus claim such an experience (see John 8:26,28,40,42)?
2. Read 1 John 3:8. How does this statement indicate that the New Testament sees Jesus’ ministry as fulfilling that original promise of Genesis 3:15?
Jesus as prophet and teacher
No one – even those who have opposed him – seriously doubts Jesus’ greatness as a teacher, and as a teacher of God’s ways. When you read his words there are no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, no ‘what do you think?’ but clear, unambiguous statements of God’s ways. His hearers recognised this and were astonished, especially at the
authority with which he spoke. And yet he was not bombastic, but always approachable, accepting questions and graciously dealing with objections. Of course, he could be disconcerting, because he spoke to people’s hearts as well as to their minds. His stories and parables were memorable, and although he lived in the society of first century Israel, no one today has difficulty in relating his words to themselves and the world they live in. Most of his teaching aims to explain God’s ways but, on occasions, Jesus also foretells the future.
To investigate 1. Read these words of Jesus to get a flavour of his teachings: Mark 12:28-34; Matthew 5:43-48; Matthew 6:5-8. Much religious talk today discusses the benefits of religion for us; it is needs-focused. Is Jesus needs-focused in these texts?
2. Moses taught that a true prophet would not deviate from God’s Law (see Deuteronomy 13:1-3). Was Jesus ever accused of doing that in his day? Read Matthew 22:16,17 to see what even his opponents said. So why was he opposed by the teachers of the Law (see Matthew 15:1-14)?
3. Moses also taught that a prophet is known to be true when what he foretells actually happens (see Deuteronomy 18:21,22). Read the words of Jesus in Luke 21:5-7,20-24. Did this happen? Is there a hint here of a return to Jerusalem one day?
4. If you have not read much or any of Jesus’ words in the Gospels, does all this give you an appetite?
Jesus as king, deliverer and ruler
Jesus did not look much like a king as he walked the dusty country roads and crowded city streets of Israel. He was generally indistinguishable from those around him. So what was the nature of his kingdom? Most kings hold their subjects by shared hopes, national pride, a common ancestry and, too often, by naked force. Jesus gathered his subjects through a love for God’s truth, as he said to the Roman governor when interrogated, “My kingdom is not of this world……I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:36,37).
To investigate 1. Read Isaiah 66:1,2. What is God concerned for, and what is of little importance?
2. According to the Scriptures, three things are set to destroy us and have the power to do so: Satan, our own sin and the effects of sin in the world. How do the following three verses give you confidence that Jesus can deliver us from them: Mark 9:14-27; Luke 7:36-50; John 9:1-7?
3. Where is Jesus now? Read these verses: Luke 24:50-53; Acts 2:32-36. Read Psalm 110 again. Which verse leads you to expect Messiah to rule from heaven? What is Jesus’ priority as he rules from heaven (see 1 Corinthians 15:25,26)?
4. We are beginning to see the two phases of Jesus’ work as Messiah. What words would you use to describe each phase?
Jesus as the Son of God
To do all these things is surely beyond the abilities of a mere man, however gifted, and the same applies to the other roles Messiah has which we will examine at the end of this study. However, as we have seen, Messiah is more than a man, he is called the Son of God, uniquely related to God the Father. It is a great mystery, but Messiah is divine â€“ God with us. Jesus certainly claimed this of himself and it became the focus for the hostility of his opponents, and it was the reason the Jewish authorities of his day finally condemned him.
To investigate 1. Mark 3:7-12 describes an everyday event in the ministry of Jesus in Galilee. Imagine you had been there there. What conclusions do you think you would have drawn about Jesus? Read one of the disciples conclusions in Mark 4:35-41, especially verse 41.
2. Read John 1:43-49. Why is Nathaniel convinced Jesus is the Son of God?
3. Read Matthew 11:27. What is Jesus claiming here?
4. In John 10:31-39 Jesus is under attack for saying he is the Son of God. How does he seek to establish his claim?
Jesus as priest (and sacri fice)
A priest is someone appointed by God to represent sinful human beings before him. He offers sacrifices and intercedes for them. How, you may wonder, did Jesus do that in the middle of all this activity of teaching and ruling, whether on earth or in heaven? Isaiah tells us how, in the passage we read previously (Isaiah 53). In those words the Servant-Messiah is presented as a substitute for sinners, a sacrifice, bearing the punishment we deserve. He acted as a priest when he sacrificed himself, offering himself to God for us. All this happened outside Jerusalem on a Roman execution cross.
To investigate 1. Read Mark 10:45. How does Jesus explain the significance of his death?
2. Hebrews 9:11-14 describes the sacrifice of Jesus in terms of the activities in the Temple. What is the result of it all for those who believe?
3. Do you welcome the idea that when you approach God in prayer there is one he accepts who represents you?
But how can we be sure?
Did you ever do that trick of picking up a completed puzzle by its corner? It should stay in one piece. The corner piece holds it all together. All these claims of Jesus are held together by one simple but momentous fact â€“ his resurrection from the dead. By it God declares that Jesus taught the truth, that he was who he said he was, the Son of God, that he does now rule all things, and that his death was an acceptable sacrifice for our sins. Here is hope â€“ he is risen!
To investigate 1. In 1 Corinthians 15:5-8, written about 30 years after Jesus’ death, Paul recounts the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. Do you think that is enough evidence to establish a fact in a modern court of law, or under Moses’ law (see Deuteronomy 17:6)?
To think about Put in your own words what you have understood of how the New Testament puts together the pieces of the Messiah puzzle.
Acts of the Apostles
MESSIAH’S PEOPLE To read prior to this study: Acts 2
Is following the Messiah a semi-automatic thing for Jewish people? Certainly the Rabbis have given the impression that not only is Messiah for the Jews, but also that all the Jews will be for Messiah when he comes. Is that true? There are five words which describe Messiah’s people: willing, multicultural, growing, gathering and suffering. We will look at them all but the first one particularly helps us to answer our question. However, I want to begin by going back to when everything started. To do that we have to read from the New Testament book called the Acts of the Apostles (Acts, for short), because it tells the story of the first followers of Messiah Jesus, all of whom were Jewish. Acts 2 describes a supernatural event in Jerusalem at Shavuot which caused many devout Jews to gather to find out what was going on. Peter, the leader of Jesus’ apostles, stood up and having given an explanation, proceeded to proclaim Jesus as Messiah and call his hearers to repent of their sins and to believe. Three thousand did! Afterwards, they did not just drift off and have no more to do with each other, or with the apostles. They were a new people; they felt it and they wanted to be together.
To investigate 1. Read Acts 2:40-47. In verse 40 what are they turning away from? In verse 41 what are they responding to? In verse 42 what are the four activities which marked their new life? In verses 43,46,47 what emotions characterised them?
2. This first group of believers in Jesus the Messiah was composed of Jews and Gentile proselytes. Could any of their activities, which are described in 2:40-47, be seen as unJewish?
A willing people
From the description we have just looked at it is obvious these people wanted to be part of Messiah’s people. No one was coercing them, nor did it happen by default. Of course, Jews don’t have any choice about being a Jew but following the Jewish Messiah is a choice. In Psalm 110:3 David indicated that a key mark of Messiah’s people is that they would be willing followers – “Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power.” This is an important point because it underlines that individuals have to make a conscious decision to follow Messiah; the implication being that some will not.
To investigate 1. The next great event in Jerusalem in the Acts story was the healing of a lame man by Peter. You can read it in Acts 3:1-10. Again it led to Peter preaching about Jesus. Read 4:4 and consider what types of response there were in the crowd that listened. Read 4:1-3. What was the response of some of the leaders?
A multicultural people
It should come as no surprise that the one God of all the earth should want people from every land to know him and praise him. He made it clear to Abraham in the now familiar words: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3) Seeing that Israel had had ‘sole rights’ to the LORD for so many centuries it would be easy to imagine how a feeling of exclusiveness would build up, such that Gentile believers might be regarded as second-class citizens, kept at arms length so to speak. Isaiah guarded against that when he prophesied of the status of foreigners in this new people: “Even them I will bring to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer…my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:6-8)
To investigate 1. Read Acts 14:1-7. It is the account of the message of Messiah Jesus being announced by Paul in Iconium (in Turkey today). In verse 1, who are the believers and how many? In verses 2 & 5, who formed the opposition?
2. What are the final consequences anticipated in the Scriptures of these decisions about Messiah? (See Zechariah 9:9,10; Revelation 7: 9,10)
A growing people
“I want it and I want it now!” We live in the now generation which demands that changes for the better happen immediately. Generally, life is not like that, and certainly God’s changes don’t fit that mould. Just look at nature; the only changes which happen rapidly are usually disastrous. So it should not surprise us if the spread of Messiah’s kingdom is a slow but sure phenomenon. These words of Isaiah about Messiah’s kingdom lead us to expect steady increase: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end…” (Isaiah 9:7) However, we should not only think of growth as numerical; it is also a matter of change in our own character.
To investigate 1. The Rabbis seem to have encouraged a “Hey Presto!” view of Messiah’s kingdom, as if it just suddenly happens. How do you think belief in the Messiah will spread throughout the world, and how long might it take?
2. Jesus told many parables to illustrate the truths of his kingdom. Read the parable of the leaven (yeast) in Matthew 13:33. What point is Jesus making about his kingdom through this parable?
3. Jacob was someone whose character was changed. Compare Jacob in Genesis 27:18-24 to Genesis 32:9-11; what change do you detect?
4. Read 2 Peter 1:1-11. To whom is Peter writing? What does he expect to see happening in the lives of these people (see verse 4)? Is this a sudden event or a process (see verses 5-8)? Do you find the qualities he describes to be attractive?
A gathering people
We have already looked at what happened when Jewish people first began to believe in Messiah Jesus. A new community formed and it met every day. How many voluntary organisations do you know that meet every day? They were very committed - to God, and each other. Those were exciting times. What word can we use to describe such a group of people? ‘The Way’ was an early term, when it was a purely Jewish movement within national Israel, but as time went on there were many non-Jews among them. A different term was needed. The New Testament writers used the Greek word ‘ecclesia’, meaning ‘called-out’. This may sound new, and perhaps a bit ‘churchy’, but in fact was not a new word to describe God’s people. It was first used in the Greek version of the Tanakh, translated by Jewish scholars about 200 years before Jesus. The word was used to describe Israel, assembled at Mount Sinai, called out of Egypt by the LORD to be his people. The first believers in Messiah Jesus saw themselves in the same light – as Israel had been called out of Egypt to follow the LORD, so they were called out of the way of this fallen world to follow God’s Messiah. Today, all who believe in Messiah Jesus should find a group of such people, large or small, probably multicultural, and make it their spiritual home. (Note: in English ‘ecclesia’ is translated ‘church’. Unfortunately, this has all the wrong associations for Jewish people, either of non-Jewish religious buildings or of an organisation with negative attitudes to Jews. Such things are the accretions of history but have nothing to do with the original.)
To investigate 1. The Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament was especially written for Jews who believe in Jesus. Read Hebrews 10:23-25. Why do you think some of the first Jewish believers in Jesus were tempted to stop meeting with others?
A suffering people
This may not seem a good note to end on but we need to count the cost of following Jesus. The next and final study will be the ‘happy ending’. There is nothing new about someone suffering hostility for lining up on God’s side. The Jewish people have suffered anti-Semitism for millennia, since they began as a people. Why? Because they were lined up on God’s side – voluntarily or otherwise. And then, those Israelites who stood for righteousness were often persecuted by their own people, as one psalmist complained, “Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!” (Psalm 43:1) So it should come as no surprise if those Jews, and Gentiles, who turn from sin to the only saviour, Jesus, and live righteously, suffer persecution – by their own people and others.
To investigate 1. Read Jesus’ words to his Jewish hearers in Matthew 5:11,12. What two reasons does he give to encourage them?
2. Read Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:12? What does he give as the basic reason for hostility to believers?
There is no greater privilege than to be a part of God’s called-out people. A people made up from every race and nation, always growing; a forgiven people, always having reasons to praise and thank God; and a people with an eternal hope.
Think it through 1. If you think about the spiritual qualities of Jewishness, as defined by the Scriptures, in what way would you describe the church as â€˜Jewishâ€™?
2. What feelings arise within you when you think of following Jesus and being part of a church?
To read prior to this study: Isaiah 11,12; Luke 19:11-27; Revelation 21
We all need hope. It is crucial for energising our lives, for motivating us and helping us to press on through obstacles; those who lose hope seem to slump into a zombie-like state. We especially need hope in times of suffering and trials. Yet, if something which gives us hope is only for this life, it is only transitory, and therefore ultimately dissatisfying. Believers in Jesus the Messiah have all the usual hopes that people have for their lives in this world, but beyond that they have an eternal hope, beyond death, in the new world that God will create. That is the hope we are considering in this last study. In a sense, this subject belongs with the previous study. This hope is not something distinct from those five characteristics of Messiah’s people which we have considered; it is integral to all of them. It is certainly not escapism but motivates in the here and now. This perspective is clear in Paul’s exhortation to believers after reminding them about the hope of the resurrection: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58) What we must not fail to grasp in this study is that this hope centres, not in things or comforts, but in a person. Our approach will be to consider how the eternal hope of God’s kingdom is presented in the Tanakh (the Old Testament) and in the New Testament, so as to see them as one and the same hope, and then to consider how it all comes to fulfilment.
To investigate 1. Read Ecclesiastes 2:1-11. Here is an example of someone having everything and placing their hope in that. Do you identify with the writer’s sentiments in any way? What hope or hopes do you have?
The hope in the Tanakh
What we are considering here is the hope of God’s new world, and it has to be admitted that when we study the relevant passages in the Tanakh, it is not always easy to tell what is referring to Messiah’s kingdom now and what is referring to God’s new world. The ancient Rabbis experienced the same difficulty; they frequently found it hard to tell if the text was describing what they termed ‘the world to come’, or whether it was this world in Messiah’s time. The reason for the difficulty is that the prophets viewed God’s coming kingdom as one unit, blurring the edges of its different phases. They announced its commencement with Messiah’s coming, its development and its final state, and they did not draw thick lines between them. For them it was all one picture as they themselves lived in a time long before it all began. They were like someone viewing ranges of mountains from a distance, seeing the peaks but not the valleys between.
To investigate 1. Daniel was given visions about Messiah’s kingdom in its relation to humanity’s empires and kingdoms. Read Daniel 7:13,14. Messiah’s kingdom begins in this world but does Daniel give any indication about when and how there is a transition to the new world?
2. Read Isaiah 11:1-9, which describes the effects of Messiah’s rule. Here we have more detail. Which expressions do you think apply to the new heavens and the new earth?
3. Isaiah’s prophecies contain the most unambiguous descriptions of the world to come. Read Isaiah 65:17-19; 66:22,23. What phrase indicates he is describing the world to come? What characteristics of this world does he mention? Does this whet your appetite?
The hope in the New Testament
As we might expect, the hope now becomes even clearer. Think of it like making a film. It’s an exciting moment when the cameras start to roll and the end product starts to take shape. But those who have done it know that a lot of preparation is needed to arrive at that point: conceiving and developing the idea, writing a script, getting a producer and director, choosing actors etc. The Tanakh is like the preparation, when the end product is not so clear; the New Testament is when the cameras start to roll and things clarify. The point is this: because we are now in the Messiah’s kingdom, not just looking forward to its coming, then it is easier for us to be clear about the final form of the kingdom – God’s new heavens and new earth. This is what we find in the writings of the New Testament. Although we still need to acknowledge that much is unclear, only presented in picture language, and for the simple reason that what God is planning for his people is beyond human description. N.B. However, having made that point, we need to be careful that we do not make the distinction too great between God’s kingdom in the here and now and its final form. The spiritual realities will always be the same, in this life and the next – knowing God; peace, joy and righteousness, and living to serve him.
To investigate 1. God’s new world is described with biblical imagery in Revelation 21:1-8. In 2 Peter 3:13 and 1 Corinthians 15:50-55; 15:25,26, Peter and Paul describe their expectation. Identify the characteristics of the new world which are mentioned.
2. Read 2 Peter 3:10-13. Why has the new world not come yet? Why the delay? Do you think you are ready?
How the new world comes
The Scriptures tell us of God’s new world, but what does it tell us of ‘how’ and ‘when’? Does the world just get better gradually? Is that what is meant by a new heavens and a new earth? Some seem to think so, so that, with God’s help, man will improve himself and his world, and the hope will be finally realised. I don’t expect that those who are realists have much faith in such an expectation; neither do the Scriptures. The focus in God’s word is on God’s king Messiah, not on us, and he plays a vital role in the transition to God’s new world. We have seen how the Gospel of Messiah Jesus changes people and brings them into a right relationship with God. What we must also see is that he is the one who will bring about the new heavens and the new earth. This take place when he returns to this world in power and glory, when he will first gather his people to himself, then raise all the dead and judge all who have lived, sending each to a fixed, eternal destiny. We do not know when this will happen but we can be sure of one thing: none of us will miss it. May his return be the hope of all who have done these studies so that his coming is anticipated with joy.
To investigate 1. Read Jesus’ words about his return in Matthew 24:23-31. What events in the natural world will accompany his return?
2. In Matthew 25:31 Jesus speaks of his coming back to judge. What is the key criteria he mentions here?
3. In 2 Thessalonians 1 Paul reflects on the persecution suffered by the believers in Thessalonica and comforts them with the knowledge that God will set things to rights. In verses 7-10 he gives an awesome description of the return of Jesus. What is the lot of those who have not believed the gospel and what is the lot of those who have?
It is not easy to think of anything going on forever and ever, with no end. Dying and death surround us, so we get used to thinking in terms of things not lasting, and life being on average no more than 70 to 80 years. Probably the closest we get to imagining ‘forever’ is to think of two people falling in love – they just delight in each other and could easily imagine doing so forever! And that gets us to the heart of things. The essence of life on the new earth is not being in a lovely place but being with a lovely person. It is in these terms that the New Testament expresses the hope for believers. Here are two typical statements: “And so we will always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17), and, “But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2). The focus, the hope, is on seeing Messiah Jesus, being with him and being like him. Entering into a relationship with God through Messiah Jesus is entering into a world of love; it starts now and will be enjoyed forever in the new heavens and the new earth. Unimaginable? Not for those who have already tasted something of his love.
Think it through Those who will be in God’s kingdom forever must enter it now. Jesus’ first words in Mark’s Gospel were, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Have you done that yet? If not, why delay?
Appendix - The books of the Holy Scriptures
Note: the books of the Tanakh are in the order used by English Bibles, and the names used are the familiar English ones.
The Tanakh (The Old Testament) Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Joshua Judges Ruth 1 Samuel 2 Samuel 1 Kings 2 Kings 1 Chronicles 2 Chronicles Ezra Nehemiah Esther Job Psalms Proverbs
The Brit Hadashah (The New Testament)
Ecclesiastes Song of Songs Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations Ezekiel Daniel Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi
Matthew Mark Luke John Acts Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians Galatians Ephesians Philippians Colossians 1 Thessalonians 2 Thessalonians
1 Timothy 2 Timothy Titus Philemon Hebrews James 1 Peter 2 Peter 1 John 2 John 3 John Jude Revelation