Showing posts with label #Advent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #Advent. Show all posts

Is there a prophecy of Jesus’s hometown?

by K.W. Leslie, 12 December

Matthew 2.23.

From the third century BC onward, Judeans began to move to the land where northern Israel’s tribes used to live before the Assyrians deported them. Namely in the galíl/“circle” of northern gentile cities—or as 1 Maccabees called it, “the Galilee of the gentiles.” 1Mc 5.15 They wanted to reclaim that land for Israel.

Nazareth was one of the towns they founded. So are all the other towns whose names you don’t find in the Old Testament. Likely Joseph and Mary’s grandparents were among the first settlers of that village. It wasn’t that old a settlement. Didn’t exist in Old Testament times. Wasn’t a town any prophet could point to, and say “That’s where Messiah is gonna grow up.” Though Micah did identify Messiah’s birthplace.

However, Christians are pretty sure one of the prophets did identify Jesus’s hometown, ’cause it says so in the bible!

Matthew 2.22-23 KWL
22 Hearing Archelaus Herod was made Judea’s king after his father Antipater Herod, Joseph feared to go there.
After negotiating in a dream, he went back to a part of the Galilee.
23 Joseph came to settle in a city called Nazareth.
This may fulfill the saying through the prophet: “He’ll be called ‘Nazarene.’ ”

And that is how Jesus became Jesus the Nazarene: His parents moved back to Nazareth and raised him there, far away from the murderous Herods. (Well, till Antipas Herod got made king of the Galilee, but that’s not for another year or so.)

Okay, so the prophet declared Jesus “will be called ‘Nazarene’ ” Great! Which prophet?

Here’s where Christians get stymied. This is not a quote of any bible verse we know about. Certain bibles like to put the addresses of Old Testament quotes in the footnotes, but you’ll notice many bibles don’t even bother. ’Cause it’s not found in the scriptures. At all. Not even in the books the Orthodox and Catholics include in their Old Testaments. It’s nowhere.

Some Christians are gonna insist it is so in the bible—it’s gotta be!—and stretch various Old Testament verses like crazy in order to make them fit. Probably the most popular stretch is to point to when the prophets talked about Messiah being an offshoot (KJV “branch”). This, they claim, really meant Nazareth—because nechér/“offshoot” sounds a little like Nadzarét/“Nazareth.” Some of ’em claim “offshoot” is what the town’s name means in the first place: As a Judean settlement, it’s meant to be an offshoot of that province.

The verse they like to point to most is in Isaiah, where it speaks of Messiah, the offshoot/descendant of Jesse ben Ovéd, father of the great King David.

Isaiah 11.1-5 KWL
1 A sprout goes out from Jesse’s stem; an offshoot of his roots produces fruit.
2 The LORD’s Spirit rests on him, a Spirit of wisdom and knowledge,
a Spirit of firmness and strength, a Spirit of cleverness and respect for the LORD.
3 He enlarges people’s respect for the LORD.
He doesn’t judge by how his eyes see them, or correct by how his ears hear them.
4 He righteously judges the poor. He plainly corrects the land’s meek.
He smites the land with his mouth’s scepter. He kills the wicked with his lips’ breath.
5 Rightness belts his waist. Steadiness belts his loins.

This prophecy can of course describe David himself… but seeing as Isaiah lived four centuries later, it’s not David. Nor the king of Jerusalem at the time, Hezekiah ben Ahaz. It’s a future king, a future messiah; it’s Jesus of course.

But as I said, it takes a really big stretch of vocabulary to claim this reference to a nechér means Messiah is gonna be called a Nazarene. Not that Christians don’t try to stretch it just that far.

“Out of Egypt I called my Son.”

by K.W. Leslie, 10 December

Hosea 11.1.

When we fulfill scripture, we’re doing as it says. When Jesus says “Love one another,” Jn 13.34 and we do it, we’re fulfilling it.

I know: When people usually talk about fulfillment, we assume it means someone’s doing as predicted. When Jesus fulfilled the scriptures, we assume this means the scriptures prophesied specifically about Jesus, and Jesus did as the prophesies foretold. Sometimes that’s absolutely true. But sometimes it’s really not, and this confuses Christians all the time.

Confused me too, when I was a kid and first learned about taking the scriptures in context. Because I actually read the Old Testament, and read those passages in context… and wondered, “How on earth is that a prophecy about Jesus?” Well, turns out it wasn’t. The author wasn’t writing about Jesus at all. Nor was the Holy Spirit secretly dropping clues about stuff Jesus would eventually do.

Yet Jesus did fulfill these scriptures. Because he did as the scriptures say. True, the scriptures weren’t saying it about him. Yet Jesus did those things too—and in a greater way than the original situation. A fully-filled way, if you wanna be corny about it: A fulfilled way.

Or in some cases a less full way. Take this passage from Hosea, which is about the LORD’s difficult relationship with rebellious Israel.

Hosea 11.1-8 KWL
1 “For I love Israel. I called my son from Egypt.
2 But the Baals called to them, so they turned their faces from me.
They sacrificed to Baals and burned incense to idols.
3 I taught Efraim to walk—and he took hold of the Baals’ arms.
The Ephraimites don’t even know I cured them!
4 I dragged them from their slave chains with ropes of love.
To them I became like those who take the bit from their mouths, loose them, and feed them.
5 Israel won’t return to Egypt’s territory: Assyria is the king of those who refuse to repent.
6 Assyria’s sword wounds Israel’s cities, destroys his limbs, and eats up his plans.
7 My people insist on quitting me. They call upon the One God, but I can’t exalt them.
8 How can I give to you, Efraim? Can I reward you, Israel?
Must I give you what I did Admah? Must I place you where I placed the Chevohites?
My heart is overthrown within me: My compassion is all hot.”

The LORD freed Israel, whom here he calls “my son,” Ho 11.1 and freed him from Egypt and raised him… and Israel/Ephraim instead worshiped the nasty Baals and shattered their relationship with God into pieces. Much of Hosea is about this very topic, although sometimes it compares Israel to an adulterous wife, and here to a rebellious son.

And yet Matthew decided to quote Hosea in speaking of the LORD’s absolutely-not-rebellious-at-all Son:

Matthew 2.13-15 KWL
13 As the Zoroastrians returned, look: The Lord’s angel appeared to Joseph in a dream,
saying, “Get up. Take the child and his mother. Go to Egypt. Be there as long as I tell you.
Herod is about to look for the child, to destroy him.“
14 Getting up, Joseph took the child and his mother that night,
and escaped to Egypt, 15 and was there till Herod’s death.
Thus might the Lord’s word through his prophet be fulfilled,
saying, “I called my son out of Egypt.” Ho 11.1

Um… when the LORD said that bit in Hosea, he wasn’t talking about Jesus. It says right there in verse 1, “When Israel was a child…” Not Jesus; Israel. Not the good son who never, ever rebelled against his Father; the nation which arguably did nothing but rebel.

So is Matthew quoting Hosea out of context? Nah. Because Jesus didn’t accomplish the prophecy; he only fulfilled it. He did the same thing. He was in Egypt, same as Israel was once in Egypt, though as a political refugee not a slave. And at the right time, Jesus’s heavenly Father had Jesus’s adoptive father take their Son back to the promised land.

The star coming out of Jacob.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

Numbers 24.17.

The Hebrews of the Exodus weren’t the only Hebrews in the middle east. There were other Hebrew nations, who probably spoke Hebrew same as the descendants of Israel whom Moses led. Namely:

  • The ISHMAELITES, descended from Abraham’s oldest son Ishmael.
  • The MIDIANITES, descended from Abraham’s sixth son Midian. (What, you didn’t know Abraham had more sons than just Isaac and Ishmael? Ge 25.1-2 Lots of people don’t. See what happens when you skip parts of the bible?)
  • The MOABITES and AMMONITES, descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot.
  • The EDOMITES, descended from Israel’s brother Esau.
  • Plus Abraham’s son fourth son Yoqšan is the grandfather of “Ašurím and Letuším and Lehummím,” Ge 25.3 names which have a plural -im ending, which therefore means they’re not individuals but tribes.

Israel’s family went to Egypt to dodge a famine, but Ishmael, Lot, Esau, Midian, and Yoqšan’s families had stayed in the area and become their own nations. Over time some of those nations assimilated with Israel and became today’s Jews; the rest became today’s Arabs.

I bring them up ’cause Moab’s king, Baláq ben Chippór, was terrified the Israelis might ruin his nation. So he hired a mercenary prophet named Balám ben Beór to curse them, because word had it Balám’s blessings and curses stuck. But Balám wouldn’t curse Israel, ’cause the LORD got to him first and ordered him not to. Instead all Balám prophesied were blessings. Like this one.

Numbers 24.15-19 KWL
15 Balám lifted up this declaration and said, “The whisper of Balám, Beor’s son.
The whisper of the noble whose eyes are open.
16 The whisper of the hearer of God’s words, who knows the Highest’s plans,
sees the Almighty’s vision, falling in a trance with eyes uncovered.
17 I’m not seeing him just now; I’m not beholding him near just now:
A star proceeds from Jacob. A scepter rises from Israel.
It shatters Moab’s sides. It tears down all Šet’s children.
18 Edom becomes occupied. Seir is occupied by its enemies. Israel does mightily well.
19 One from Jacob reigns, and destroys the city’s survivors.”

Sounds more like a curse on Moab/Šet and Edom/Seir. (Those are different names for the same nations, just like Jacob/Israel.)

Through Balám, the LORD was clearly telling Baláq his nightmare would come true: Israel would eventually smite them. And smite Edom.

The star and scepter Balám spoke of are the ancient symbols (and still the present-day symbols) of a king. But bear in mind Israel had no king. The closest thing they had to a king was a head priest—and a thousand years later the head priests did become kings, but that’s leapfrogging a few centuries of the first monarchy—namely Saul, David and his descendants, and Jeroboam and the various Ephraimite dynasties. Saul’s kingdom was three centuries away, and till then Israel was randomly led by prophets, priests, and libertarian anarchy. No sign of any star and scepter for a long time.

So yeah, it’s a prophecy of a future king of Israel. Which, to be honest, isn’t that miraculous a thing to foretell. Nations need leadership, and in those pre-democracy days it meant one guy would find a reason to declare himself king, eliminate his competition, rule, and leave his throne to a competent son… or an incompetent one who’d quickly be overthrown. Predicting a king was sorta commonsense.

The miraculous part was stating this king would smite Edom and Moab, and win. Which David eventually did, 300 years later. Hence this is considered a messianic prophecy, ’cause David was God’s mašiakh/“messiah,” his anointed king.

And if it’s about one messiah, Christians tend to figure it’s also a prophecy about our Messiah, Jesus the Nazarene.

The prophet like Moses.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 December

Deuteronomy 18.15-19.

In the 15th century BC, God saved the Hebrews.

Their ancestors had moved to Egypt to ride out a famine, and settled in a land called Goshen. (Which we nowadays call the Sinai Peninsula, even though Sinai’s actually on the other side of the Dead Sea, in Arabia. Ga 4.25 If the maps in your bible say otherwise, the mapmakers oughta actually read their bibles.) But some years later the Egyptians decided to press the Hebrews into slavery, and that was their situation when Moses was born… and 80 years later when the LORD sent Moses to lead ’em out of slavery. Ten plagues later, Moses led the Hebrews across the Dead Sea into Arabia, and the LORD drowned the Egyptian army behind them. And that is what Jews today celebrate every Passover.

Moses tried to lead the Hebrews to a land the LORD originally promised to Abraham; they called it Canaan, Israelis call it Israel, Palestinians call it Palestine, and we call it whatever the folks we side with most call it. The Hebrews balked, so the LORD had that generation die off in Arabia. Forty years later, a dying 120-year-old Moses addressed the next generation who was now ready to invade Canaan, and reminded them what the LORD had taught their people in the Arabian desert. We call that address Deuteronomy, from the Greek for “second Law.”

In Deuteronomy Moses told the Hebrews to follow the LORD—who, contrary to popular pagan belief, does not speak through “signs” or fortune-telling or astrology. He speaks through prophets. Like Moses.

Deuteronomy 18.9-22 KWL
9 “When you enter the land which your LORD God gives you,
don’t even try to learn to do the revolting things these nations do.
10 Like one who passes their son or daughter through fire:
Such a person mustn’t be found among you!
Nor anyone ‘reading the cards,’ anyone ‘reading the stars,’ augury, spells,
11 good-luck charms, consulting the spirits, talking to the dead.
12 For anyone doing these things is revolting to the LORD.
These revulsions are why your LORD God is driving them away from your faces.
13 You must become flawless with your LORD God.
14 For these nations you drive out: They listen to those ‘reading the stars’ and ‘reading the cards.’
As for you, your LORD God doesn’t allow you to do so.
15 Your LORD God raises up for you, from within you, from your family, a prophet.
You must listen to them!
16 It’s like you asked of your LORD God at Khorév, on the assembly day,
saying, ‘I don’t want to hear my LORD God’s voice any more!
I don’t want to see this great fire any further! I don’t want to die!’
17 The LORD told me, ‘What they say is fine.
18 I’m raising up prophets for them, from among their family, like you.
I put my words in their mouth. They speak to the people everything I command them.
19 When anyone won’t listen to my words, which my prophet speaks in my name,
I myself demand accountability from them.
20 However, the prophet who presumes to speak in my name
what I’ve not ordered them to speak, or what was spoken in the name of other gods:
This prophet dies.
21 When you say in your heart, “How do we identify a word not spoken by the LORD?”:
22 When the prophet speaks in the LORD’s name, and it’s not my word:
It’s not something the LORD’s spoken; it won’t come to anything.
The prophet spoke it in pride. Don’t fear them.’ ”

Yeah, you probably know Jews and Christians who dabble in astrology, fortune-telling, good-luck charms, spiritualists, spells, and all that crap anyway. They shouldn’t be. God doesn’t talk through any of that. He uses prophets. Prophets wrote bible, so he uses bible. And that’s it. He doesn’t need to communicate any other way.

Set your hearts for Jesus’s return.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 December

Different scholars have different ways they wanna interpret the Greek word παρουσία/parusía, “[second] coming.” Most of the time “appearance” or “coming” or “return.” When used to describe what Jesus is up to, it has more of a sense of “arrival,” or even “invasion.” Certain gutless commentators leave it untranslated, and just refer to Jesus’s parousia, as if it’s too difficult a concept to convert into English. Rubbish: The popular idea of “second coming” works just fine to describe it, 1Th 3.13 so that’s how I translate it.

Today I wanna point to Jesus’s brother James, and how he referred to it:

James 5.7-8 KWL
7 So be patient, fellow Christians, till the Master’s second coming.
Look, the farmer awaits the land’s precious fruit,
patient about it till they can get early- and late-season rain.
8 Be patient yourselves as well. Strengthen your minds:
The Master’s second coming has come near.

So. Ever since Jesus’s rapture, Christians have expected him to return at any time. True, he’s taking a mighty long time, but as I regularly point out, he’s trying to save everyone he can, and may put it off a great deal longer. Regardless, he’s one day coming for you individually. And me. And everyone else on the planet. Everybody dies, and we don’t always know when. So be ready.

James used the analogy of a farmer who looked forward to his crops. And yeah, at the time James wrote this, a few things had to happen before Jesus returned. In the analogy, the farmer had to wait through early- and late-season rains. Most Christians accept the idea the “early-season rain” has already happened in some form. Not all of us are agreed the “late-season rain” has happened yet. I figure they have; others insist it’s part of a future End Times timeline.

But either way, Jesus is taking his time about returning. And either way, we need to be patient. Which is a serious struggle for those Christians who want him to return today, and wrest our governments away from the fools and opportunists who currently have the reins. Much easier to have Jesus fix everything, than clean up our own messes. (And some of us are hoping Jesus does so with a whole lot of bloodshed; and yes, that’s seriously f---ed up of them. They need to get saved.) The End takes place on Jesus’s timetable, and not our timelines. If we gotta wait, we gotta wait. Still, let’s be ready.

Apostasy before the second coming.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 December

Before Jesus returns, bad stuff was predicted to happen. Both by Jesus, who described some of the events 40 years hence when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem; and here by Paul, Silas, and Timothy when they reminded the people of Thessaloniki that there’d first be a time of apostasy.

2 Thessalonians 2.1-12 KWL
1 We should ask you, fellow Christians, about the second coming of our Master, Christ Jesus,
and how we’ll be gathered together with him.
2 It’s so your minds won’t be shaken up, nor go into a panic,
whenever some spirit, message, or letter (like those from us) claims the Lord’s Day has come.
3 Don’t let anyone trick you in any way: Nothing happens till the apostasy comes first,
till the lawbreaking person, the child of destruction, is revealed—
4 the antagonist, the one exalting himself over everything called “god” and “worshipful,”
so much so he sits in God’s temple and claims he’s a god himself.
5 Don’t you remember the things I told you when I was still with you?
6 Now, you know who holds him back so he can be revealed in his own time:
7 The secret of the lawbreaker is already working—
but only till the one holding him back can come out of the way.
8 Then the lawbreaker will be revealed—whom Master Jesus will take out with his mouth’s breath.
He’ll abolish the lawbreaker at the manifestation of his second coming:
9 This is the coming against Satan’s works in every power, “miracle,” and fake wonder;
10 in every unrighteous trick towards those destroying themselves.
For fake miracles don’t accept the love of truth in their salvation.
11 Through it, God sends them off with their belief in fakes, in powerful error.
12 Thus everyone can be judged who didn’t trust truth, but were pleased with wrongness.

Popular Christian culture tends to call this “lawbreaking person” the Antichrist (with a capital A, as opposed to any old antichrist who just doesn’t like Christ or Christianity), and figure he’s the same as the beast of Revelation 13. There are also a bunch of wacky myths about how evil he’ll be and what he’ll do, but I won’t go into them today. Suffice to say he’s basically Bizarro Jesus: Like Bizarro Superman, who’s like Superman on Opposite Day, Antichrist supposedly does everything Christ does, but for evil and twisted reasons.

But Christians are actually disagreed as to whether such an Antichrist still needs to show up first. After all, it’s been 20 centuries since the apostles wrote to the Thessalonians, and many antichrists, many lawbreakers, have come and gone… and fulfilled this prediction many, many times already. And if this is the case, nothing more needs to happen before Jesus returns.

Still, some Christians really have their hearts set on this Bizarro Jesus version of the beast, and are anxiously awaiting him far more than they’re hopefully awaiting Jesus.

No, seriously: When’s Jesus returning? He’s taking forever!

by K.W. Leslie, 15 December

2 Peter 3.1-9.

I’ve been writing about the scriptures on Jesus’s second advent, or second coming. And of course I had to point out we don’t know when that’ll be. The events which were meant to come before his return, happened. There’s nothing left to hinder it—so it can happen at any time.

This being the case, people want that day to be today. Right now. ’Cause they’re suffering, or ’cause current events are awful, or ’cause they’re in a hurry to live under Jesus’s direct rule. Either way, come Lord Jesus! But he hasn’t yet.

And sometimes people give up hope of him ever returning. Which was the mindset Simon Peter had to deal with in his second letter.

2 Peter 3.1-4 KWL
1 Now this, beloved: I wrote you a second letter in which I awaken you to a purely-thought reminder—
2 to remember the words the holy prophets and your apostles foretold,
commands of our Master and Savior.
3 Know this first: In the last days, mockers will come to mock,
following however their own desires are going, 4 saying,
“How’s the promise of his second coming meant to work?—since the church fathers died over it,
same as everyone continues to die from the beginning of creation.”

See, the expectation of the first Christians was—same as now—that Jesus could return at any time. During their lifetimes, they expected. They hoped. They waited. If anyone’d told them Jesus still wouldn’t return for more than 20 centuries, I doubt they’d believe it. (Of course, if you spoke to them now, from their vantage point in paradise I’m pretty sure they have a better idea of what Jesus is up to.)

But you know how impatient humans can get. Even in the first century, they were taking crap from those naysayers who were wondering just how much time Jesus needed to put together his heavenly invasion. After all, the first generation of Christians were dying off. And didn’t Jesus say they’d live to see his return? Mk 13.30, Mt 24.34, Lk 21.32 (Not really. But you know how people will take any hint and just go nuts with it. Jn 21.22-23)

So part of the reason Simon wrote 2 Peter was to remind his readers of their original conviction. 2Pe 3.1 Either you trust what the prophets and apostles taught you, or you don’t. And they did warn us about naysayers, who follow their own urges instead of God’s messengers, 2Pe 3.3 who spin the second coming till it suits them better. Sometimes by imagining Jesus never will come; that instead we all die and go to him. Sometimes by creating intricate seven-year tribulational scenarios. However they work.

When is Jesus returning?

by K.W. Leslie, 08 December

Jesus is returning. But when?

That’s the question every Christian asks, whether it’s in the front of the back of our minds. When’s Jesus coming back? Sooner rather than later, we hope—though considering the past 20 centuries, he’s taking an awfully long time to get round to it.

What did Jesus himself have to say about it? Well, this. You’re not gonna like it.

Mark 13.32-37 KWL
32 Nobody’s known about that day or the hour.
Neither the heavenly angels, nor the Son. Just the Father.
33 Look. Stay awake. You don’t know when it’s time.
34 It’s like a person abroad, who left his home.
He empowered his employees to do their jobs—and he ordered the doorman so he’d stay awake.
35 So stay awake! You don’t know when the master of the house returns.
Evening? Midnight? Sunrise? Morning? 36 When he suddenly arrives, don’t let him find you asleep.
37 What I tell you, I tell everyone: Stay awake!”

In short: “I dunno. And even if I knew, I’m not telling. You just need to be continually ready for it. On your toes. No slacking. Alert. Stay awake!”

Well, some of us can handle that command. Others really can’t. It’s why they’re running round like Chicken Little: “The sky’s falling! The End is near!” Everything they see in the news—contrary to Jesus’s instructions that these sorts of things will happen, but it doesn’t make it the End yet Mk 13.7-8 —is nonetheless treated as if it fulfills End Times prophecy. “Prophecy scholars” have us all wound up fearing all sorts of boogeymen which, no fooling, aren’t even in the bible. Aren’t even hinted about in the bible—they have way more to do with the prophecy scholars’ loopy politics than scripture. It’s all dark Christianity and irrational panic. Stuff that’s far more devilish than godly.

On the other extreme, there are the Christians who are pretty sure Jesus is never coming back. ’Cause it’s been 1,984 years since he ascended to heaven, and assuming a conservative 30 years per generation, that’s 66 generations ago. (And don’t go reading anything into that number, wouldya? Yeesh.) Since Jesus doesn’t appear to be in any rush to return, patiently waiting for as many to be saved as possible, 2Pe 3.9 he might take another 66 generations to finish the job. If ever.

Yeah, I don’t think it’s wise to adopt either extreme. Jesus fully intends to come back. If he’s not returning for the world for another generation or two, bear in mind he’s totally coming for you personally. You’re gonna die someday. So will I. So will everyone. We don’t know when that will be. “Stay awake” is as good advice for our personal day of reckoning, as it is for the world’s.

The Son of Man’s returning. And everyone will see it.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 December

When Jesus returns, it’s not gonna be a secret second coming. It’s not gonna be an event which only takes place metaphorically, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim; where they believe God’s kingdom began in 1914 but Jesus isn’t coming to earth till the final battle.

It’s not gonna be a secret gnostic event, which only the chosen few know about. It’s not gonna be a secret rapture, where the Christians vanish and go to be with Jesus, and the rest of the planet has to wait seven years. It’s not secret. It’s nice and visible and obvious. As Jesus himself describes.

Matthew 24.23-28 KWL
23 “Then when anyone might tell you, ‘Look! Here’s Messiah!’ or ‘He’s here!’ don’t believe it:
24 Fake messiahs and fake prophets will arise, and will give great signs and wonders to deceive you.
If possible, to deceive God’s chosen people too.
25 Look, I’m forewarning you 26 so when people tell you, ‘Look, he’s in the wilderness!’ you don’t go out;
‘Look, he’s in the inner room!’ you don’t believe it.
27 For just as lightning comes from the east and appears in the west,
so will be the Son of Man’s second coming.
28 Wherever a corpse may be, there one will find eagles.”

That last line tends to confuse people—“Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather” is how the NIV puts it. Certain dark Christians like to claim it implies judgment—that when Jesus returns, he’ll kill all the sinners, and carrion birds will feast on their flesh. Rv 19.8 ’Cause they take Revelation literally, but that’s not how to appropriately interpret it.

It’s not a judgment. It’s an epigram. “Where there’s a corpse, there’s eagles” is like saying, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” or “If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” If it obviously looks like Jesus has returned, that’s what happened. But if there’s anything iffy, or secretive, or “spiritual” about it—if it looks like nothing, but only “the chosen few” know about it—it’s a con. It is nothing.

When you read the Left Behind novels, or watch any of the movies where all the world’s Christians mysteriously vanish, you notice there are always pagans who argue, “We don’t know what that was,” and deny the disappearances had anything to do with Jesus. After all, Jesus didn’t appear! And if all the Christians in a given town vanish overnight, shouldn’t you suspect foul play? Doesn’t this secret-rapture idea make it disturbingly easy for anti-Christians to wipe us out and blame it on Jesus?

Thing is, it’s not at all how the scriptures describe the actual second coming of the Son of Man. Not Jesus, nor his apostles. It’ll be so obvious, everyone will see it, and know precisely what’s happening. Whether they believe their own eyes or not.

Jesus describes his second coming.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 December

The first hint we have that Jesus is arranging a second coming—that he’s not taking possession of his kingdom during his first coming—appears in the Olivet Discourse, the bit in Mark 13, Matthew 24-25, and Luke 21, where Jesus answered his students’ question about a future disaster he’d just casually referred to. Mk 13.1-2, Mt 24.1-2, Lk 21.5-6

In each gospel’s version of the discourse, Jesus brought up the persecution of his followers, a particular time of great suffering which’d take place in Jerusalem, and fake Messiahs and prophets who’d try to lead them astray. But afterwards, this:

Mark 13.24-27 KWL
24 “But in those days after that suffering:
‘The sun will be darkened and the moon won’t give its light.’ Ek 32.7
25 The stars will be falling from the skies; the heavenly powers will be shaken.
26 Then people will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ Da 7.13 with great power and glory.
27 Then he’ll send angels, and gather together his chosen ones from the four winds,
from the earth’s edge to heaven’s edge.”

Where’s Jesus during this suffering and persecution? Apparently not here. Which meant he was gonna leave. Which is not what his students were expecting. Even though he repeatedly told ’em they were going to Jerusalem where he’d be killed, Mk 8.31-32, 9.31, 10.33 they expected they were going to Jerusalem for him to conquer it. Even after he was raised, they expected him to take it over at that time! Ac 1.6 Fond beliefs are awfully hard to give up.

I don’t blame ’em for wanting Jesus to take over Jerusalem immediately. I want him to do that too. But first things first. First the period of suffering, like the bit where Jerusalem fell to the Romans, who performed horrible atrocities on its inhabitants in the year 70. Then the persecution of Jesus’s followers, which—despite large breaks, and powerful sanctuary nations like the United States—continue to this very day, in the millions, far more than there have ever been. And of course fake Messiahs and prophets, which we have in the States as well, ’cause comfortable Christians are way easier to lead astray than those who depend on God minute by minute.

The conditions are right for Jesus to return at any instant. The sooner the better. Come Lord Jesus!

It’s 4 January. It’s still Christmas. And this fact annoys you.

by K.W. Leslie, 04 January

All the way back in 2016, my church decided it was time to begin our 21-day Daniel fast on the first Sunday of the month. Specifically this was Sunday, 3 January 2016. Welcome back from the holidays, folks; no doughnut for you.

“Really not appropriate to schedule a fast for a feast day,” I pointed out to one of my fellow church attendees.

SHE. “Feast day? This is a feast day?”
ME. “It’s still Christmas.”
SHE. “Christmas was two Fridays ago.”
ME. “Christmas began two Fridays ago. And ends tomorrow. It lasts 12 days, remember?
SHE.What lasts 12 days?”
ME. “Christmas. Remember the song? ‘On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…’ and each day the singer just kept getting more and more birds? ’Cause Christmas has 12 days.”
SHE. “Who celebrates it for 12 days?”
ME.I celebrate it for 12 days. I’m still eating cookies.”
SHE. “Well, you can do that if you like. I took the tree down the day after Christmas.”
ME. “You mean the second day of Christmas.”
SHE. [irritated scoff]

Tell many a Christian that today’s the 11th day of Christmas, and that’s the response you’ll get from them. The irritated scoff. Christmas ended last month. And good riddance. They were so done with the holiday once Christmas dinner was over. And if they weren’t, the hassle of returning Christmas gifts did it for ’em.

Like I said back in my advent article, a lot of people have adopted the mindset our popular culture foists upon ’em. To them, the Christmas season begins on Black Friday, ends 25 December, and the rest is just aftermath and cleanup. Put the decorations away as soon as possible, ’cause it’s time to concentrate on the new year. And the stores are already selling Valentine’s Day items. (“Already? Are you kidding me?”)

But if you’ve burnt out on Christmas, it’s because you’ve not really been celebrating Christmas. You’ve been celebrating the awful Mammonist substitute the stories peddle. Our churches unwittingly help ’em do it too. We perpetuate the idea of a one-day holiday, a frenzy of gifts and toys and events, and a slapped-on veneer of “Remember the reason for the season!”

In fact Christmas is primarily about how Christ the savior is born. If you’re doing Christmas correctly, and someone brings up the word “Christmas” after the 25th, that’s the mental image which should’ve immediately popped into your mind. Not decorations, toys, and obligations. Jesus has come. ’Cause if your first response is to scoff… you did it wrong.

The Son of Man.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 December

One of Jesus’s favorite ways to refer to himself is as the Son of Man. It was a way of saying, yet not overtly saying, he’s Messiah.

Y’see, people of Jesus’s day who knew their bible would immediately catch the meaning. And people who don’t know the bible—didn’t then, don’t now—would simply assume it’s an odd choice of words, and ignore it as irrelevant. Same as they do Jesus’s parables.

The meaning comes from Daniel. In his book, Daniel described various apocalyptic visions of the then-distant future. (Most of it is most definitely in our past, ’cause the angels explicitly stated it had to do with the Persian and Greek empires—though you’ll still get a few End Times loons who insist it has to do with the future of Iran and the European Union. Anyway.) Daniel was informed about Messiah’s first coming, as well as his second.

In one of his visions, where the Ancient of Days judged the world, Daniel saw what he identified as a Son of Man. And the reason the folks of Jesus’s day were quite familiar with this passage, was ’cause Daniel actually wrote it in their language, Aramaic. Not Hebrew, like most of the Old Testament.

Daniel 7.13-14 KWL
13 I dreamt a prophetic vision that night: Look, someone like a Son of Man!
Coming in the heavens’ clouds, approaching the Ancient of Days, coming near to him.
14 The Ancient gave the Son authority, honor, and the kingdom,
and every people, nation, and language, who’ll bow to his authority.
His authority is permanent: It never passes away.
His kingdom can never be destroyed.

This is a future kingdom, one God sets up, with his chosen king running the show. By the time Daniel wrote this, the kings of Israel were gone; had been for years. So clearly this vision is about Messiah—but a future Messiah, who’d not just rule Israel and the Jews, but the entire planet.

Yep, this is the very bible reference Jesus had in mind whenever he called himself the Son of Man. We know this ’cause he quoted it. During his trial before the Judean Senate, the head priest demanded to know whether Jesus considered himself Messiah, and Jesus broke his typical silence and gave a definitive answer.

Mark 14.61-62 KWL
61 For Jesus was silent, and answered no one.
Again, the head priest questioned Jesus, and said to him,
“You’re Messiah, the son of the blessed one?”
62 Jesus said, “I am.
And you’ll see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power,
coming with the heavenly clouds.”

True, the Senate were outraged by this answer and condemned him to death for it. Mk 14.64 But there should be no question what Jesus meant throughout the gospels by Son of Man.

Christ is born in Bethlehem.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 December

Around 5 BC, a crowd of Zoroastrian astrologers came to Jerusalem looking for “the newborn king of Judea,” Mt 2.2 freaking out the province largely because its paranoid king, Herod bar Antipater. Mt 2.3 They knew it was only a matter of time before Herod starting killing people over it. As he later did.

Figuring he oughta learn where Messiah was expected to come from, Herod turned to Jerusalem’s head priests and scribes.

Matthew 2.4-9 KWL
4 Gathering all the head priests and scribes of the people,
Herod was asking them, “Where’s Messiah born?”
5 They told him, “In Bethlehem, Judea. This was written by the prophet:
6 ‘You, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are in no way the least of Judah’s rulers:
A leader will come from you who will shepherd my people, Israel.’” Mc 5.2
7 Then Herod, secretly summoning the Zoroastrians, grilled them on the time the star appeared.
8 Sending them to Bethlehem, he said, “Go search carefully for the child.
Once you find him, send news to me so I might also go bow before him.”
9 On hearing the king, they went.

The scribes answered with a loose translation of Micah 5.2, which pinpointed Jerusalem’s suburb of Bethlehem, about 3 kilometers away. The Canaanites called it Efratá/“fruitful,” but by the time Genesis was written the Hebrews had renamed it Beit Lekhém/“bread house.” Ge 35.16, 19 Still, the Hebrews tended to refer to it as “Bethlehem-Efratá” to distinguish it from the other Bethlehem in the tribe of Zebulun. Js 19.15 Don’t mix up your Bethlehems. God didn’t.

Bethlehem was a small settlement; small enough to get skipped in various Old Testament censuses. But it wasn’t unknown. Israel’s judge Ivchán (the one with the 60 kids) was from there, Jg 12.8-10 and King David ben Jesse was from there. 1Sa 17.12 So the town had two great rulers come from it already.

The prophecies of Micah of Moreshét were largely about how the LORD was tired of the evil which went on in Israel, and he was coming down to Jerusalem and Samaria to sort things out. Mc 1.3 Micah figured the LORD was coming to judge—you know, that part of the cycle of history.

But in reading it, you’ll notice Micah wasn’t only talking about the LORD dealing with the issues and worries of the then-present day. The terms he used include a lot about final judgment, not just one judgment among many. Finally sorting out Israel, not just currently sorting things out. Stuff that happens in the last days, not just the usual near-future prophecies.

In other words, Micah includes some prophecies about Messiah and the End Times.

Jesus, our Immanuel.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 December
Jesus, our Immanuel.

Isaiah 7.14, Matthew 1.22-23.

In the middle of the Joseph story, the author of Matthew inserted this comment.

Matthew 1.18-19 KWL
22 (All of this happened so it could fulfill
God’s message to the prophet, saying,
23 “Look, the maiden will have a child in the womb,
and will birth a son,
and they will declare his name to be Immanúël,” Is 7.14
which is translated “God is with us.”)

So let’s jump from the first century of our era, to the eighth century BC, for that story.

If you’re not familiar with the nation of Ephraim, that’s because the writer of Kings preferred to call it “Israel.” It’s the nine northernmost tribes of Israel, which split from Jerusalem and were run by the king of Samaria. Back round the year 735BC, the king of Samaria, Peqákh ben Remalyáhu (KJV “Pekah the son of Remaliah”) joined forces with Radyán of Damascus, Aram (KJV “Rezin the king of Syria”) to attack Jerusalem. 2Ki 16.5 This was one of the first campaigns of the Assyro-Ephraimite War… which eventually destroyed Samaria. The Assyrians dragged all the cities of Ephraim into exile, and all the country-dwellers left behind either moved south to Jerusalem, or evolved into the Samaritans.

While Jerusalem was under seige, the prophets Isaiah ben Amóch and his son Sheüryahsúv had come to King Akház ben Yotám (KJV “Ahaz son of Jotham”) with good news from the LORD: Ephraim and Aram’s plans would ultimately come to nothing. But Akhaz—who wasn’t the most devout of kings—really didn’t know how to take the encouragement.

Isaiah 7.10-17 KWL
10 The LORD’s word to Akház, saying,
11 “Request a sign from your LORD God.
Make it deep as a grave,
or make it high as outer space.”
12 Akház said, “I won’t ask.
I won’t test the LORD.”
13 Isaiah said, “House of David, listen please.
It takes little for you to tire people,
because you also tire God.
14 For this, my Master himself is giving you a sign.
‘Look, a pregnant maiden gave birth to a son.
She declared his name Immánuël/‘God with us.’
15 He’ll eat curds and honey,
and learn to reject evil and choose good.
16 But before the boy learns to reject evil and choose good,
the nations you fear are laid waste
before the face of these two kings.’
17 The LORD is bringing upon you, your people, and your father’s house
days which haven’t been
since the days Ephraim turned away from Judah to Assyria’s king.”

God had Akház’s back. Proof? Little Immánuël. And Matthew quotes this prophecy because Jesus is like little Immánuël.

Messiah and Melchizedek.

by K.W. Leslie, 09 December

Psalm 110 is a Messianic psalm, a psalm about God’s mešíakh/“anointed [ruler],” one of the kings of ancient Israel. Since Jesus is the last Messiah, it applies to him too. I’ll discuss the whole psalm another time, but today I’m gonna zoom in on just this one verse:

Psalm 110.4 KWL
The LORD swore, and isn’t turning back from it:
“You’re a priest, eternally, in the manner of Melchizédek.”

Melchizédek (Hebrew melkhí chédeq/“king [of] rightness”) is probably a title, not a name. He appeared once in the bible; he never appeared again, but he sure got everyone’s attention: David in this psalm, and the writer of Hebrews in her interpretation of the psalm.

The Canaanite king Khedorlaómer of Elam, and his allies, conquered Sodom and dragged its people into slavery. Among them was Lot ben Haran, the nephew of Avrám ben Terah, whom the LORD later renamed Abraham. Ge 17.5 So Avrám took his private army (yeah, he had a private army; dude was rich) and rescued Lot. Ge 14.1-17 And then Melchizédek suddenly, briefly, showed up.

Genesis 14.18-20 KWL
18 King Melchizédek of Salém brought out bread and wine.
He was a priest of the Highest God, 19 and blessed Avrám and said,
“Avrám is blessed by the Highest God, owner of the heavens and earth.
20 The Highest God is blessed: He handed your opponents to you.”
Avrám gave Melchizédek a tithe from everything.

“Highest God” (Hebrew El Elyón, Greek Theós Ýpsistos) is what pagans tend to call God. ’Cause they don’t know his name; they don’t know what he calls himself; they only know he’s God. And not just any god—’cause these pagans believed in all sorts of gods—but the highest God. The God beyond all the other gods. Higher than even their king-gods, like Odin or Zeus. Often the god who created the other gods—the one the gods considered God. Any time you encounter a polytheist (a worshiper of multiple gods) who really knows their religion, ask ’em about their highest God. Most will know exactly who you mean. Some will hem and haw, and try to make it sound like no, there are lots of gods—but in the end, they admit they know there’s a top God. This’d be the God. Our God.

I know; lots of Christians insist a pagan’s highest god can’t be our God, can’t be the Father of Christ Jesus. ’Cause these pagans are so wrong. I get their concerns. But look at it this way: If someone seriously misrepresented who George Washington was (say, Mason Weems, just so he could sell books), does this mean there’s not a real Washington at the back of all the made-up stories? Of course there is; and some pagan’s idea of the Highest God does have the LORD at its core. We just need to scrape off all the fictions, and get ’em to follow him.

Anyway, this was the God whom Melchizédek knew, and Avrám recognized they followed the very same God. Avrám called him El Shadda’í/“God Almighty,” Ex 6.3 and Melchizédek called him El Elyón. Same El—same God. Same as when Christians call him Jehovah and Jews call him haShem. (And then we gotta go and call him Jesus, and freak the Jews out. But anyway.) This recognition meant Melchizédek could bless Avrám, and Avrám could receive it. And bless Melchizédek right back with a tithe—a portion, usually a tenth—of the spoils of war.

Christians have analyzed this Genesis appearance like crazy. Sometimes a little too crazy, but I’ll get to that.

The first prophecy of a savior.

by K.W. Leslie, 07 December

The first time a savior was foretold in the Old Testament.

We have no idea whether Genesis was the first written book of the bible. Some Christians speculate Job was (and they’d be totally wrong; Job was written in a later version of biblical Hebrew, and took place in Edom). Others figure Moses wrote his psalm before he wrote the bible. In any event the first hint we have in the scriptures that humanity might need a savior, is found in Genesis 3—the story of humanity’s fall.

As the story goes: Eve and Adam, the first humans, lived in paradise. God told ’em not to eat off a particular tree. A serpent tempted Eve to eat off it anyway, and Adam followed suit. The consequence: They couldn’t live in paradise any longer, ’cause the Tree of Life was there. They were driven out; Adam was cursed to fight nature in order to gain his sustenance, Eve was cursed with painful childbirth and male domination, and the serpent was cursed like so:

Genesis 3.14-15 KWL
14 The LORD God told the serpent, “Because you did this,
you’re cursed more than any animal, more than any living thing in the wild.
You’ll walk on your belly. You’ll eat dirt every day of your life.
15 I declare war between you and the woman, between your seed and hers.
He’ll crush your head. You’ll crush his heel.”

I’ve heard young-earth creationists claim snakes used to have legs when they were first created, but because of this curse they became the legless creatures they now are. I like to mess with ’em by pointing out this sounds like a special case of evolution—and if God did this with serpents, why not other creatures? (Really bugs ’em.)

Okay, most of us Christians leap forward to Revelation and notice this serpent was actually Satan:

Revelation 12.7-9 KWL
7 War came to the heavens: Michael and its angels battling the dragon;
the dragon and its angels battling back 8 and failing.
No place was found for them anymore in the heavens.
9 The great dragon was thrown out, the primeval serpent which is called devil and Satan.
The deceiver of all civilization was thrown to earth,
and its angels were thrown out with it.

Revelation sets this event right after the birth of Jesus. Rv 12.1-6 But Christian mythology tends to put Satan’s fall at the beginning of history, at some point between creation itself and the fall of humanity. According to the myths, after Satan was bounced, it decided to ruin humanity in revenge, snuck into paradise, became (or pretended to be, or possessed) a serpent, and led Eve and Adam astray.

But I should point out: The first versions of this myth date from our third century. They’re based on a first-century apocalypse, which got mixed up with the 15th-century-BC creation story. Which, I remind you, is at a whole different point in the timeline. Satan got booted after the birth of Jesus, remember? Lk 10.18 Did I not make that obvious?

So what did happen here? Well, yeah the serpent is Satan. But this wasn’t Satan getting revenge for a fall which hadn’t happened yet. This was Satan testing Eve. ’Cause that was its job, whether assigned (which I doubt) or self-appointed: Testing creation to see whether it’d hold up. Testing Eve to see whether she’d violate God’s will. Pushing the test too far, and slandering God in the process, which is why God was rightly pissed at it. The humans shoulda passed this test. Instead they unraveled creation.

And after Eve and Adam violated God’s will… well, God had to resort to plan B. ’Cause plan A, where they’d be his people and he’d be their God, Ex 6.7, Lv 26.12, Jr 30.22, 2Co 6.16 was shot to hell. Now God had to fix his broken creation so he could return to plan A. Which he’d do through the woman’s seed, who’d crush the serpent’s head. And we Christians figure Christ Jesus is the woman’s seed. Ga 4.4

The magi and the monstrous king.

by K.W. Leslie, 03 January

Matthew 2.1-18.

Both Mešíakh/“Messiah” and Hrístos/“Christ” mean king.

It’s a fact most Christians forget. Either we translate these words literally and assume they only mean anointed, or we mix ’em up with the meaning of “Jesus” and figure they mean savior. We treat Christ like Jesus’s surname, and forget it’s his title.

And we forget you couldn’t just wander around ancient Israel and call yourself Messiah or Christ. There were other people who laid claim to that title. Powerful people. Homicidal people. Like Herod the Great, who was only “great” because of all his building projects; as a human being Herod was a monster. Emperor Augustus used to joke he’d rather be Herod’s pig than his son. Herod did execute two of his sons, and since Edomites didn’t eat pork, Augustus’s comment was quite apt.

How’d baby Jesus get on Herod’s bad side? Well, you might know parts of the story, and if you don’t I’m gonna analyze the story in some degree. It begins with some mágoi/“Zoroastrians.” Or as the KJV calls them, “wise men.” Contrary to the Christmas carols, these weren’t kings.

Matthew 2.1-3 KWL
1 When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Judea, in the days of King Herod,
look: Zoroastrians came to Jerusalem from the east.
2 The Zoroastrians were saying, “Where’s the newborn king of Judea?—
we saw his star in the east, and came to bow before him.”
3 Hearing this, King Herod was agitated, and all Judea with him.

Mágos is Greek for maguš, the old Persian term for Zoroastrian, a follower of the 11th century BC Avestan prophet Zarathustra (Greek Zoroaster). In English this became magus, plural magi.

Problem is, when people look up magi, they have to navigate through ancient Greek beliefs about Zoroastrians… and the Greeks didn’t know squat. Yeah, they had books about Zarathustra and his followers and what they believed and taught. But all of it was based on rumor and conjecture. Zo- in Greek means “life,” and astír means “star,” so they leapt to the conclusion Zoroastrians worshiped stars, and were Babylonian (not Persian) astrologers and magicians. Even the early Christian Fathers repeated these myths. Hence our own word magic comes from magi.

Like Christians and Jews, Zoroastrians are monotheists. They worship Ahura/“Supreme Being,” and he’s mazda/“wise.” They seek wisdom, so “wise men” isn’t a bad description for ’em. Ahura Mazda created the universe and truth. He’s opposed by the Angra Mainyu/“the destructive principle” which produces the chaos and lies in the universe. (Some folks assume this is another, equally powerful god to Ahura Mazda, but he’s not Ahura’s equal.) Ahura’s Spenta Mainyu/“generous principle,” sort of a holy spirit through whom he interacts with the universe, fights the Angra Mainyu. At the End, Ahura Mazda will send a savior, the Sayoshyant, born of a virgin; the dead will be resurrected, and Angra Mainyu will be destroyed.

Notice a few similarities between Zoroastrianism and Christianity? Some pretty significant differences too—so no, they’re not Christians who are just using Avestan words for everything. Still, the matching beliefs make a lot of scholars wonder just how much Zoroastrianism and Judaism interacted with one another—even influenced one another—when the Jews were exiled to Babylon in the sixth century BC. ’Cause both Nabú-kudúrri-usúr of Babylon (KJV “Nebuchadnezzar”) and Kuruš 2 of Persia (KJV “Cyrus”) had Zoroastrians among their wise men.

The prophets who recognized Jesus.

by K.W. Leslie, 27 December

Luke 2.21-40.

Luke 2.21-24 KWL
21 Once eight days were fulfilled, Joseph circumcised him and declared his name Jesus,
which the angel called him before he was formed in the womb.
22 Once the days were fulfilled for Mary’s purification, according to Moses’s Law,
they took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord,
23 just as it’s written in the Lord’s Law:
“Every male who opens a womb will be called holy to the Lord.” Ex 13.2, 12
24 And giving a sacrifice, according to the saying in the Lord’s Law:
“A pair of doves, or two young pigeons.” Lv 12.8

Jesus followed the Law. If he didn’t, he couldn’t be described as without sin, He 4.15 because sin is defined by the Law. Ro 3.20 And though, as an infant, he couldn’t yet do anything on his own to actively follow the Law, he had Law-abiding parents who took care of it for him. As instructed in the Law, eight days after birth Ge 17.12 (meaning he wasn’t born on Sabbath, contrary to some theories), Joseph circumcised his adoptive son, and as the angels instructed, named him Jesus. Mt 1.21, Lk 1.31

As for Mary, she was ritually unclean for 7 days, and unable to go to temple for 33 days. Lv 12.2, 4 But once her 33 days were up, she had to have a sheep sacrificed to represent her atonement, and a dove sacrificed for her sins. Lk 12.6-7 I know; Roman Catholics claim Mary never sinned. Well, she was ordered to sacrifice the dove anyway, and not sacrificing it would’ve been a sin. In fact, I guarantee you plenty of animals were sacrificed on Jesus’s behalf over his lifetime, even though he didn’t need a single one of them to die for any sins—but sacrificing them was part of the Law, so he offered ’em anyway. Really, not a one of them had ever taken away sin, He 10.4 for they were merely representative of Jesus’s later self-sacrifice. He 10.1 I’m getting way ahead of the story though.

Since Luke quotes the verse about how the poor can swap another dove for the sheep, Lv 12.8 it implies Joseph and Mary were poor. Which they likely were—by now, between baby expenses and the Romans’ taxes as part of their survey. Cash-poor meant doves or pigeons were a much more affordable option. You could catch birds for free, y’know.

On the way into the temple, Jesus’s parents were accosted by a prophet. Yes, there were still prophets back then. God never stopped having prophets, nor stopped speaking through them.

The sheep-herders’ vision of the angels.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 December

Luke 2.8-20.

The same night Jesus was born, a bunch of angels appeared to some nearby herdsmen, scared the bejesus out of them, told them Christ had just been born, then let ’em watch the angels rejoice at what their Lord had done. Nice.

As usual I’m gonna pick apart that story in some detail, ’cause our average Christmas stories tend not to know the background (or care) and therefore miss significant things.

Luke 2.8 KWL
Sheep-herders were in that area, keeping watch over their flocks that night.

Starting with the poiménes/“pastors,” the shepherds, or sheep-herders. Most preachers like to point out these were rough, dirty, low-class people. These weren’t like your refined upper-class Pharisees, the sort of people who thought they should be the ones to receive God’s birth announcement when their foretold Christ (or Messiah, or anointed king) had come. Nope; God hadn’t sent angels to those jerks. He sent ’em to ordinary people. Commoners. Scum of the earth. Because God came to save regular joes, not know-it-alls.

Maybe I’m biased ’cause I tend to be one of the know-it-alls. But there’s just a bit of class warfare involved in that interpretation. Bashing snobbery is its own kind of snobbery, y’know; it’s not any better. And not appropriate when we’re talking about Jesus. He came to save everybody. Commoners and the upper class, tradesmen and herdsmen, laborers and scholars, Pharisees and pagans, Jews and gentiles, jerks and humble people. This good news, as the angel later said in verse 10, is for all people. Jerks included. Really, they need God’s forgiveness more.

Preachers also tend to describe these herdsmen as societal outcasts—for no good reason. Bethlehem was sheep-herding country for thousands of years, since the time of King David—himself a shepherd from that city. Most of the Bethlehemites were either in that business, or connected with it. Ain’t no shame in that business. It’s only our culture which tends to look down on ranchers or herdsmen or cowboys, and again for no good reason. It’s a class warfare thing; it’s the assumption that if you work with your hands, you don’t often work with your brain. President Harry Truman liked to point out how back when he was a farmer, he did a whole lot of thinking while he was behind the plow. Never underestimate laborers.

Once we look at the angel’s message to these herdsmen, we’ll see the angel obviously didn’t figure these guys to be dumb. Or second-class subjects. They’re some of the people Jesus came to save, who’d appreciate hearing their King was born. Plus it was late, and they were already awake, so why not them?

Christ the Savior is born.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 December

Luke 2.1-7.

Luke 2.1-3 KWL
1 This happened in those days:
A ruling went out from Caesar Augustus
to survey the whole Empire.
2 This first survey happened
during Quirinius’s leadership of Syria,
3 and each and every one was traveling
to their hometowns to be surveyed.

Some bibles refer to this apo-gráfesthai/“write-up,” as a census. But it wasn’t just a head count. The United States takes censuses every decade to figure out how many representatives each state should get, but the Romans and other empires took censuses to figure out exactly how much tax money they should expect from their territories.

Historians were a little confused because for a long time they couldn’t find records of a specific Roman survey round the time of Jesus’s birth (roughly 7BC or so). They assumed surveys were rare, so something which’d have a lot of documentation around it. But surveys were regular. The Romans held one every few years. ’Cause they weren’t like the U.S. Census Bureau: They didn’t know how to estimate population growth inbetween surveys. The Roman army might’ve just put down a rebellion, crucified a slew of people, and so much for their calculations. Or conquered a new territory. Or there might’ve been an unexpected growth spurt somewhere, or a plague elsewhere. Best to just survey everybody all over again. Plus you could throw in a poll tax, where everybody who shows up for survey has to pay a denarius for their pains.

Now for the date. Luke tries to pin it down by mentioning the Roman emperor, Imperator Caesar Divi Filius Augustus (Gaius Octavius’s official name by that point); and a certain Syrian leader, Publius Sulpicius Quirinius. Here’s the problem: In 7BC, the year we’re figuring for this survey, the praetores/“leaders” of Syria were Gaius Sentius Saturninus, whose term was up; and Publius Quinctilius Varus, whose term began. Quirinius didn’t became praetor till year 6 of the Christian Era. But Jesus was born before the death of Herod of Jerusalem in 4BC—’cause Herod ordered Jesus killed. Mt 2.16 So we have a continuity problem.

Here are the popular solutions to the problem. Pick your favorite.

  • SKEPTICS: Doesn’t matter. It’s all mythology anyway.
  • INERRANTISTS: The Roman and Jewish historians, and every historian since, have the dates wrong. Luke doesn’t. Quirinius was totally governor at the time. The bible rules.
  • THOSE WITH REALLY OUT-OF-DATE REFERENCE BOOKS (’cause they don’t trust present-day scholars): Maybe Quirinius served two terms, with a first term before Saturninus? [A theory pitched back when there were a few gaps in Roman Syrian history. Archaeologists have filled them since.]
  • THOSE SEEKING GRAMMATICAL LOOPHOLES: Granted, Quirinius wasn’t praetor till 6CE. But back in 7BC he was a legatus/“officer”—a military leader in charge of Syria’s defense and foreign policy, if not the proper governor. He held a position of igemonéfontos/“leadership,” Lk 2.2 right? He could’ve supervised the Roman survey, right? Close enough, right?
  • INERRANTISTS (who by “inerrancy” only mean the original texts were inerrant, not our current copies): The original text of Luke must have “Saturninus,” or “before Quirinius’s leadership of Syria.” Either way, some copyist slipped up and wrote “Quirinius,” so now we have a boo-boo in the bible.
  • NON-INERRANTISTS: Luke mixed up the governors.

Got one chosen? Goody. Now on with the commentary.