Witnesses

Jesus responded to the Jews rejection of him as their Messiah by first letting them know that they would be jusged for their choice (John 5:22) and then, explained to them that there would come a day when everyone would be resurrected from the dead, but rather than entering into the presence of God and living with him for eternity, those who rejected Jesus would spend eternity in hell (John 5:29). Jesus intentionally made a point of declaring the truth about God’s judgment early in his ministry, and also talked about it often, so that no one could say, I didn’t know about that. Comparing God’s judgment to a legal case in which each person would be charged with some offence, Jesus said, “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom you trust” (John 5:45). Jesus said this because his “listeners prided themselves on their attachment to Moses, the great lawgiver. So it was an unexpected thrust for Jesus to say Moses himself would accuse them before God” (note on John 5:45).

Thinking about the evidence required to convict someone of a crime in a court of law, Jesus identified four witnesses that could testify that he was in fact the Jews’ Messiah. The first witness Jesus called to their minds was John the Baptist (John 5:33). The Jews were familiar with John’s message and many saw him baptize Jesus in the Jordan river (Matthew 3:16). During his first encounter with Jesus, John stated, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus told the Jews, “But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me” (John 5:36). Jesus was referring to his works of salvation. The Messiah’s mission was to save God’s people and Jesus intended to finish that assignment through his death and resurrection. Ultimately, there was no better way for Jesus to prove he was who he said was than to resurrect himself from the dead. If that wasn’t enough, Jesus added that God himself had testified to his identity (Matthew 3:17) and the Scriptures also testified of him (John 5:39).

Miracles

Jesus’ ministry began with a great display of the power he possessed as the Son of God. This supernatural activity drew a lot of attention to Jesus’ ministry and resulted in both good and bad circumstances that he had to deal with throughout the rest of the three years he ministered to God’s chosen people. Matthew described the start of Jesus’ ministry this way.

And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had palsy; and he healed them. (Matthew 4:23-24)

Jesus’ ability to cure any and every disease by supernatural means was recognized as a sign of his deity. Not since the time of Elijah and Elisha, hundreds of years earlier, had God’s people seen such a display of God’s power. Mark’s account of the launch of Jesus’ ministry focused on the authority with which he worked his miracles. He said,”And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him” (Mark 1:27).

One of the keys to understanding Jesus’ approach to his ministry was the connection made between sin and disease in the mind of God’s people. The Mosaic Law stated that disease was a consequence of sin. Shortly after the Israelites left Egypt, Moses told them “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee” (Exodus 15:26).

Perhaps the clearest demonstration of Jesus power, authority, and compassion for the sick was displayed when he healed a paralyzed man who was let down through the rooftop tiling by his friends so that he could get close enough to Jesus to be healed. Luke’s gospel states:

And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason he in your hearts? Whether is easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that he may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. (Luke 5:20-25)

John’s account of the start of Jesus’ ministry provided a timeline of the first three days of his activities and recorded that only a few days into his ministry, Jesus declared his intent to rise from the dead after he was crucified. This final miracle was to be the ultimate sign to the Jews that Jesus was in fact their Messiah. After cleansing God’s temple, the Jews confronted Jesus about his unorthodox behavior. It says in John’s gospel, “Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body” (John 2:18-21).

The coming day of the LORD

The final chapter of the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi 4 describes in sharp contrast two potential outcomes the Jews could expect in a time period identified as “the coming day of the LORD.” The prophet Isaiah discussed at length the coming day of the LORD, but the context for this event was much different because the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of God’s people had not yet occurred. When Malachi addressed the topic, the Jews had returned from captivity and were clearly focused on the arrival of their Messiah. Even though the birth of Jesus was still some 400 years away, it was the only event left on God’s prophetic calendar with regards to salvation and deliverance of his people. What may still have been unknown at that time, or at least misunderstood, was that God’s chosen people would reject their Messiah and miss the opportunity to have his kingdom established on earth immediately.

Some of the Jews did accept Jesus as their Savior and were essential in the establishment of his church, but God’s ultimate goal of establishing a kingdom on earth over which his Messiah would rule and reign forever was delayed in a physical sense. Jesus currently sits on a throne in heaven and has been given all authority over mankind, but Satan is still active in his pursuit of evil and is able to disrupt the lives of God’s children. The appointed day of the LORD is when Satan’s work will be brought to an end and God’s judgment of the world will begin. At that time, it will be evident who is a follower of Satan and who is a follower of Jesus Christ. Malachi said of those that choose Satan as their master, “For behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch” (Malachi 4:1).

Although God’s chosen people were and still are downtrodden and afflicted in this world, news of the coming day of the LORD was intended to bring them hope and inspiration about their future. Unlike those that had forsaken God’s law and determined it was unnecessary to obey his instructions, the faithful Jews were promised a final victory. God told them, “but unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 4:2-3). This prophecy was only partially fulfilled during Jesus’ ministry. The treading down of the wicked won’t be fully accomplished until Jesus’ returns in the coming day of the LORD.

Rejection

God demonstrated his love for his chosen people by selecting them to receive his mercy and forgiveness even though they didn’t deserve it. God’s explanation for doing this can be found in Malachi 1:2-3, where it says, “I have loved you, saith the LORD, Yet you say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.” The Hebrew word translated hated, sane´ (saw – nay´) “represents an emotion ranging from intense hatred to the much weaker set against” (8130). Regardless of the intensity of his negative emotions, what the LORD was making clear was that he had made an intentional effort to destroy Esau’s inheritance, while preserving that of his beloved people, the descendants of Jacob.

If there was any doubt about where God’s wrath was directed, the Jews were assured that it was not directed at them. Even though he had sent his people into captivity to punish their unfaithfulness, God did not abandon them or allow his people to be destroyed by their enemies. In fact, after they had been given permission to return to the Promised Land (Ezra 1:3), many of the Jews decided to stay in Babylon and were almost exterminated there (Esther 3:13). Even then, God delivered the Jews from their enemies and eventually commissioned Nehemiah to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem for their protection. Comparing the Jews to the Edomites, God said, “Whereas Edom saith, “We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall call them, The border of wickedness, and, The people against whom the LORD hath indignation for ever” (Malachi 1:4).

God’s disappointment with his people was primarily directed at their political and religious leaders. In particular, the priests had failed to teach his people how to live according to his laws. God warned the priesthood, stating, If ye will not hear, and if ye will not lay it to heart, to give glory unto my name, saith the LORD of hosts, I will even send a curse on you, and will curse your blessings: yea, I have cursed them already because ye do not lay it to heart” (Malachi 2:2). Another way of interpreting the phrase lay it to heart would be for God to say, You need to take me seriously or, You need to do what I tell you to. The thing the Jews seemed to always keep forgetting was their obligation to do God’s will. The priesthood was set aside for a particular purpose, to give God glory through their worship and their sacrifices in his temple. In his final reprimand of the priests, the LORD stated, “For the priests lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 2:8-9).

Restoration

In spite of the safety and security that the wall around Jerusalem provided, most of the Jews didn’t want to live in the city. It says in Nehemiah 11:1 that the people cast lots to see who would have to move there. The people most likely chose to live outside the city limits because they needed more space to grow crops and to feed their animals, but even the priests and Levites who were supposed to be fed with the temple offerings had to be coerced into leaving the countryside (Note on Nehemiah 11:1). There were some though that chose to live in the city of Jerusalem. It says in Nehemiah 11:2, “And the people blessed all the men, that willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem.” One family in particular stood out among the residents of the city. It says in Nehemiah 11:6, “All the sons of Perez that dwelt at Jerusalem were four hundred threescore and eight valiant men.” The sons of Perez were warriors that most likely volunteered to live there so they could defend the city against attack. During Solomon’s reign over Israel, military and civil officers were put in place to maintain peace and security in the kingdom. Twelve regiments were established to serve one month out of the year. It says in 1 Chronicles 27:3, “Of the children of Perez was the chief of all the captains of the host for the first month.”

The family of Perez was probably carrying on a family tradition when they volunteered to live at Jerusalem. One of the things that was noteworthy about the Jews return to the Promised Land was that many people returned to the exact locations where their ancestors had lived before they were taken into captivity. A list of villages that were repopulated outside of Jerusalem corresponds with a list that is found in Joshua 15 where the borders of Judah are recorded (Nehemiah 11:25-30 and note). Although you might say it was just a skeleton of the former nation, the restored city of Jerusalem and surrounding area of Judah probably functioned in a similar fashion to what it did when Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land the first time. Their ability to restore God’s kingdom with such accuracy was due to the Jews meticulous record keeping system. The Levites, who were descendants of Jacob’s son Levi, had to prove their genealogy in order to serve in the temple. It says in Nehemiah 12:23, “The sons of Levi, the chief of the fathers, were written in the book of the chronicles, even until the day of Johanan the son of Eliashib.” This book of chronicles may have been the official temple chronicle, containing various lists and records. If so, the Jews must have taken it with them when they went into captivity or perhaps, buried and/or hid it before they left Jerusalem. Without these kind of records, the genealogy of Jesus would not have been able to be proven.

Commitment

After Ezra read God’s law to the Jews, everyone that had knowledge and understanding of what they had heard, made a commitment “to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD” (Nehemiah 10:29). The seriousness of their commitment was described as entering into a curse, and into an oath, meaning a curse would be on the head of anyone who broke the agreement (423). An oath was similar to what we think of today as giving sworn testimony in a court of law. To take an oath or swear was considered a promise. In the same way that God makes promises to us, an oath was treated like a legal agreement that could not be broken.

The most important thing to note about the commitment the Jews made was that it was a voluntary action. The people realized that God’s laws were mandatory, but they made a personal commitment to follow them because they were aware of what had happened to their ancestors as a result of not keeping God’s commandments. One of the key issues Jesus had to deal with during his ministry on earth was the keeping of God’s commandments. The Jews went beyond God’s law to establish traditions that were impossible to keep, such “as the washing of pots and cups” (Mark 7:8), and even plucking ears of corn to eat was considered a violation of the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-24).

Jesus used the word hypocrite to describe the Jews’ overzealous behavior in keeping the commandments. He said, “Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7). In order to distinguish the true intent of God’s law, Jesus clarified the critical points that needed to be remembered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).

Perhaps the mistake the Jews made in making a commitment to keep God’s commandments was not that they didn’t understand the law, but that they didn’t interpret it correctly. The primary purpose of the Ten Commandments was to maintain healthy relationships so that there would be unity among God’s people. The night before his crucifixion, Jesus gave his disciples some final instructions. In order to clarify God’s expectations about keeping his commandments, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35).

A deeper understanding

At the conclusion of their building project, all the Jews gathered themselves together as a congregation and requested that Ezra read to them from the book of the law of Moses. Nehemiah previously noted that the whole congregation together was 42,360 people (Nehemiah 7:66), so the crowd would have been similar in size to a packed baseball stadium, but they actually took up much less space because Nehemiah said all the people stood in the street, and Ezra spoke to them from a pulpit made of wood that was raised above them so that everyone could see him (Nehemiah 8:4-5).

In his opening prayer, Ezra blessed the LORD, which means he kneeled down before him in reverence (1288). In response, as a sign of their commitment and willingness to submit themselves to God, it says in Nehemiah 8:6 that, “all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” Ezra’s reading of the law went beyond merely speaking it out loud so that everyone could hear it. His intent was to make sure that everyone clearly understood it. It says in Nehemiah 8:8, “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”

You could say the gathering of the Jews was more like a Bible Study than it was a recitation of the law. It was important for them to have a deeper understanding of God’s word because the people were expected to actually do what the law said they were supposed to. The Hebrew word translated distinctly, parash means to separate or disperse. In a figurative sense, the word can be used to specify something or to wound someone as with a harsh word or saying (6567). The Apostle Paul said in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

One of the ways Ezra knew that the people truly understood what he was saying to them was “all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law” (Nehemiah 8:9). In other words, they were convicted of their sins and felt bad about all the things they had been doing wrong. Surprisingly, Ezra didn’t encourage the people to grieve or to be sorry for their sin, but told them they should celebrate because “the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10), meaning, in their process of reaching spiritual maturity, it was more important for the people to convey the joy of God’s forgiveness than it was for them to express grief because they had sinned. “And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them” (Nehemiah 8:12).