Evidence from Pentecost to the Book of Acts

After his resurrection but just before his ascension (where Yeshua was taken up to God and seated at His throne) Yeshua instructed his Disciples to stay in Jerusalem and to wait until they would be clothed with power from on high.  They would be immersed in the Holy Spirit.  On the Jewish Feast of Shavuot or Pentecost, this took place, but not only with the 12 Disciples but with 120 gathered disciples.  They spent ten days after his ascension seeking God in prayer.  On the morning of Pentecost, I believe they gathered in the Temple in Solomon’s Portico, their place for larger meetings. Then it happened.  The Spirit was poured upon them with a mighty rushing wind.  Flames of fire appeared on them.  Then they spoke in foreign languages that they never had learned.  The people on the Temple Mount platform heard the strange loud sounds and gathered.  Jewish people from many nations heard them proclaiming the Good News in the languages of these nations.  Two aspects of this major miracle are usually noted by scholars.  First that this miracle parallels God coming down in fire on Mt. Sinai when the covenant was given to Moses for the people.  Secondly, some think that the barrier of language differences was overcome through the Gospel in a reversal of the confusion of languages at the tower of Babel.  Some who did not understand that they spoke in foreign languages thought they were drunk.  

Peter then stood up and proclaimed the Gospel.  He began by saying that they were not drunk, but it was only 9:00 A. M.  Rather this was the miracle prophesied by the prophet Joel in Joel 2:28-30, where God promises to pour out the Spirit on all flesh, and the sons and daughter will prophesy.  Then he proclaimed the story of Yeshua, his life of miracles, his death, and resurrection.  He also noted the culpability of the leaders and those who followed them who gave him over to death.  The people were deeply convicted and wondered what they should do.  Peter then tells them to repent, be baptized, and to be filled with the Spirit.  The text says 3,000 men came to faith that day, baptized no doubt in the many immersion pools by the entrances to the Temple.  

We now read of the progress of the new movement.  It grows by leaps and bounds, from major miracle to major miracle.  Peter and John see a man crippled from birth healed at the Gate Beautiful entrance to the Temple.  The Disciples supernaturally escape jail.  Signs, miracles, wonders, and healing are characteristic.  There are healings from paralysis and even a resurrection from the dead (Acts 9:39-42).   The movement among Jewish people and Samaritans (Acts 8) became very large though, alas, it did not gain the majority in ancient Israel.  The religious leaders thwarted its progress.  

Then we read of the amazing conversion of Saul of Tarsus (Paul) who took the Gospel to the nations.  Amazing miracles continued, prophecy, healings, and a resurrection from the dead.  The power of the Spirit that accompanied the preaching of the Gospel was as nothing ever seen before. Mark 16 is the prophecy of what would happen, “These signs shall follow those who believe.” (v.17)   It then summarizes what happened, “They went out and proclaimed everywhere, the LORD working with them confirming the word by the signs that follow.”  (v. 20)   

The power of preaching the word in the Synagogues of the Mediterranean world and then in the marketplaces of the cities of the Roman Empire with such power with signs and wonders produced a huge movement.  The miracles in the ministry of Barnabas and Paul and then Paul and Silas and their team continued to produce the same kind of fruit that we saw in the early ministry of the 12 in Israel.  Congregations were planted and grew in city after city. 

Only the fact that the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost in the Temple and the confirming signs being so numerous and amazing in the rest of the book of Acts (some 30 years)  can explain why the Yeshua movement conquered the Roman Empire.   There were some other periods that were amazing, for example, St. Patrick in the British Isles and Ireland.  However, in history, there was nothing again quite as grand as what we see in the book of Acts.  However, that is until our day.  Today we are seeing the closest parallels to the first century.  That is for another essay. 

The Messiah Yeshua and Judgment Texts 

An over-emphasis on the difference between how God appears in the days of the Old Testament and how God appears in the text of the New Testament has been common historically but seems to be more pronounced today.  Those who have departed from our faith and some who were never among us, claim that the God of the Old Testament is harsh, vengeful, and violent.  On this basis, they claim, they reject the Gospel. How is that apparent discrepancy dealt with by believing scholars? 

First, there are those who do not believe in the full trustworthiness of all the biblical texts (inerrancy).  They do believe that God’s revelation is in the Bible and that this revelation is the highest revelation we have.  Yet, they argue that not all that is in the Bible, claimed as God’s command is really that, but is a misperception of God’s will by people.  According to these thinkers, God did not destroy humanity in the flood, and He did not call Israel to destroy all the Canaanites.  This was a projection of their human understanding.  Yet these also argue that the ethical teaching and standards of the Torah and the prophets is far beyond that of the nations of those days.  (G. Ernest Wright, The Old Testament Against its Environment, Reuven Hammer, The Torah Revolution).  The standards of the Law and the teaching of the prophets on God’s heart for the poor and marginalized is outstanding and wonderful.   Brevard Childs of Yale argued that the Bible provides us with a progression of better understanding as we pass through the Old Testament unto the New. The trajectory toward a much greater understanding of the heart of God begins with the Torah but then gets better and clearer until its climax in the life and teaching of Yeshua.  He calls this the canonical approach to biblical theology and says we are bound by the truth of the trajectory of the whole canon.  This is where he finds true and trustworthy biblical theology.  Those who hold to a high view of the whole Bible (inerrancy) believe that there is a progressive revelation such that we see God most clearly and fully only when we come to the revelation in the New Testament.  For whatever reason those harsh and violent commands and history are recorded in the Tenak (Old Testament) especially continuing through to II Kings.  God’s will for us today is not to destroy the Canaanites but to love our enemies.  The center for us today is the Sermon on the Mount. Whatever we think of the harsh commands given to ancient Israel, today we are confronted with the life, death and resurrection of Yeshua.  Offense over the Old Testament passages can be a defense to not face the claims of Yeshua.  That is the highest revelation of God and his will. 

However, there is another important aspect to this subject.  Is the gulf between Yeshua in the New Covenant revelation with the teaching of the whole New Testament really as wide as claimed?  An Andy Stanley may reject the Old Testament as relevant today, but then what of Isaiah 2 and 11 and its revelation of world peace, or Isaiah 42, 49 and 53 and the amazing portrait of Yeshua.  He probably does not mean that he rejects the whole thing as irrelevant.  The best social justice teaching is found there.  Again, the gulf is not as wide if we read the judgment passages in the teaching Yeshua and the rest of the New Covenant Scriptures.  There are many texts. 

Yeshua enjoins us to not fear him who kills the body but to fear Him who destroys both the body and soul in Hell.  Those of the goats in Matthew 25 are told to depart from him, even into eternal death and separation from God.  His words of judgment on Capernaum and Bethsaida are fearful and terrible.  In John 5:24, the wrath of God remains on those who reject Yeshua. The judgments in the book of Revelation are also fearful and terrible as is the final judgment in Rev. 20.  Yeshua warns of a harsh judgment again and again for those who do not repent and turn to God. 

Yes, the ethical way of life and love taught by Yeshua is amazing, the highest and the best.  However, a hard judgment part is still present.  He himself is now the norm by which we measure all things.     

My book Heaven, Hell and the Afterlife provides a survey of the whole Bible and its teaching. The Bible’s teaching is both wonderful, hopeful, and hard. 

For Seekers; Four Best Books

There are four books that are at this time are my four chosen books to give to seekers for the truth.  I would like to include my book The Biblical World View, An Apologetic.  Yes, since I wrote it and gave great effort to it, I think it is a very helpful and comprehensive book, but to pierce the heart, I think the four I name here are amazing.  I will make my book #5.  

  1. N. T. Wright, “Surprised by Hope” is an amazing book.  It is the best book I have ever read both on the resurrection of Yeshua and on our resurrection and life in the Age to Come.  Anglican Bishop Wright is one of today’s top New Testament theologians, presently teaching in the renowned department at St. Andrews University in Scotland.   He powerfully presents the evidence that Yeshua rose from the dead.  Then he presents the wonderful hope that comes from the fact that our resurrection life is a real bodily life fit for a totally renewed earth.  His language attains to a C. S. Lewis level of quality. 
  1. John Burke, “Imagine Heaven” is the most balanced and theologically solid book I have yet read on what is being called “near-death experiences.”  The most miraculous of these are clearly death and resurrection experiences, not near-death experiences.  The common and different descriptions of heaven, people knowing things that could not be known in the natural, and the transformation of those who have experienced such, is amazing and stirs faith and hope.  It is a great book to give to those with terminal illnesses. My best friend from our public high school read it before he died. It gave him and his wife a more vivid hope.  The book is proof that the body is not our whole self and that we indeed survive death.  It also shows that Yeshua is Lord of heaven and earth. 
  1. Craig Keener, “Miracles Todayis a shortened version with additions of his monumental two large volumes, Miracles, the Credibility of New Testament Miracles.  The latter is about the same kind of miracles happening today as in the Gospels and Acts. Keener is one of the world’s leading New Testament theologians. He teaches at Asbury Seminary and has written some of the most foundational books in his field. Keener travels the world to document miracles, ones that cannot be naturalistically explained. They are done on the cutting edge of Kingdom expansion.  Keener shows that miracles are predominantly and overwhelmingly done in the name and power of Yeshua, confirm the Gospel, and manifest compassion for the sick.   The compendium is amazing.   Keener’s great capability as a theologian puts this all in a framework of solid biblical theology and interpretation.  Dr. Keener is a great gift.  This book is like drinking from a fire hose.  Wonderful miracle after wonderful miracle is documented, often with medical evidence. 
  1. Thomas Dubay, “The Evidential Power of Beauty.  Dubay was an amazing professor at Catholic University in Washington, D. C.  He also was a leader in spiritual retreats.  Dubay presents the evidence from creation and how beauty pervades creation, from the fauna and flora to microscopic life to the macroscopic level of the whole universe.  His presentation of intelligent design with beauty is one of the best I have read. Then he presents the beauty of Yeshua, his life, his teaching, his death, and resurrection.  And finally, he presents the evidence from the lives of the saints.  The book can take your breath away.  I try to read this book again every year. It is that good 

Today’s evidence is much greater by far than in my student days.  Taken all together, the evidence and argument for the truth of our faith is amazing.  As I said about miracles, the whole evidence as well is like drinking from a fire hose.  I wish the evidence available to me in 1968 was like the evidence I now have available.  The developments in science in the last 60s years have been very helpful, and now the evidence form the miraculous which two of the books document (#2, and #3 above) is far more than I had in those years. 

Christianity’s Best Examples: The Saints

It has become quite a pattern today for some who left the Christian faith to rail against Christians, quite viciously sometimes, sometimes with a lot of hate.  This may be fueled by actual abuse from their past.  The claim is made that Christians are all a bunch of hypocrites.  These claims may also be simply a way to suppress the truth, to continue in rebellion against Him, and to not face His claims.  However, revivalists like Dr. Mike Brown have also been very strong about the condition of the Church in America.  His base for criticism is the truth of the Bible.  We could ask what is the standard by which people criticize.  My point here is not to defend or critique the American Church.   I will say there are stellar examples, both individuals and communities.  One can find them if one desires. Again, for some this railing is simply a way of fighting against Yeshua’s claims upon us.  If we are too harsh to the Church, which is part of Messiah’s bride, we can offend God and find Him opposing us.  

Thomas Dubay, the late and amazing Catholic theologian from Catholic University in Washington, D. C, says a religion best known by its best representatives.  They show great evidence of the truth of biblical faith. In Catholic thought, these are the saints.  G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis made the same argument.  Protestants and Messianic Jews don’t think much about saints.  We say all believers are saints, though we have some examples we always point to (Hudson Taylor in China and George Mueller in England).  Dubay’s argument is found in his amazing apologetic book, The Evidential Power of Beauty.  I read it once every year!!

I have reflected upon this and realized that this argument is true.  I credit both the communities that attain a level of love, godliness, and service that is outstanding and individuals. They show what is possible in Gospel.  However, I want to point to those stellar individuals that are signs of God’s reality on earth.  When you are in the presence of holy godliness in a person, the reality is amazing.  My spiritual father at Wheaton, Chaplain Evan Welsh is one such example. He was living proof of the existence of God and the reality of Jesus.  Kindness was etched on his face. Love came through continually.  There was joy and confidence that was wonderful.  I could not get enough of being in his presence.  I had a spiritual father in High School who also ended up as such a saint!  He led many to Yeshua. This is characteristic of saints.  Some rebellious did not see it that way.  Chaplain was too simplistic, too simple (he had a master’s from Princeton!) When my mother came to Wheaton for my graduation in 1969, she entered his home with me. Chaplain was not yet there. She said she felt a wonderful presence.  Does the Spirit dwell in greater measure in the homes of saints?  I think so.  I named my son after him. I have known a few others whose love, joy, holiness, humility, and grace were outstanding.  One such person I see today, in whose presence I have a similar response, is Heidi Baker who ministers in Africa.  She and her husband Rolland wrote the book “Always Enough.” They have rescued thousands of orphans and planted thousands of churches. But it is not the greatness of the ministry only, but the quality of her presence.  One story is told of Smith Wigglesworth. A  man ran into him on a train.  He did not know him.  He sensed the Holy Presence.  He turned to him and said his presence made him feel the depth of his own sin.  Amazing. On the spot conviction due to the Presence.

Yes, faith is known best by the very best among us, the saints.  Thank God for them. 

Love the sinner but hate the sin, and the destructive nature of idolatry

This little phrase is packed with truth.  It can be used as a trite response to those who reject our biblical worldview, but when rightly applied it is powerful.  It is most powerfully manifest in the ministry of Yeshua.  He told the woman caught in adultery and released from punishment, “Go and sin no more.”  A crippled was healed and Yeshua exhorted him to depart from sin lest a worse thing come upon him.  Yeshua was known to eat with sinners.  He gave his life to rescue them and defended his involvement with the famous words, “Those who well do not need a physician.”  He came to seek sinners. 

The best ministries do not just proclaim the standard of God and define sin but invest in healing the sick, the sinner, the marginalized.   We can think of the amazing ministry of David Wilkerson in the classic story, The Cross and the Switchblade.”  Love for the addicts and pushers in a tough and dangerous area of Brooklyn produced amazing fruit.  One of the best stories is the biography of the early years of Nikky Cruz.  Countless stories of those rescued from prostitution, deviant lifestyles, and the self-centered pursuit of wealth (the tax collectors in the Gospels) show the amazing power of loving the sinner and hating the sin. 

Some do not perceive their own sin or defend their sin.  Biblical Law defines sin. (I John 3:4)  The ideal of that Law is in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).  Some say that if their chosen path does not harm others, there should be no concern from believers.  However, a biblical Yeshua-centered person has love and compassion for those who claim that their sin is not sin and that it does not hurt others. Their claim is not true.  it, first of all, hurts them.  It robs them of true joy the most important of which is a relationship with the creator.  All who live lives of practicing sin live lives headed for destruction.  Yeshua came that sinners would repent of sin and be changed by his supernatural power. 

Practicing sin is connected to idolatry.  This is the foundational sin.  Idolatry is found in “I am” statements that define self-identity that denies our primary identity in God.  I am “a wealthy businessman,” I am “an actor,” “a homosexual” a “transexual” a “professor.”  The issue is not that all these patterns are sin, but any self-identity that is not based In who we are in God leads to this.  In his book Logo Therapy, Victor Frankel, noted that those who self-identified as their primary identity with higher meaning and purpose, a religious identity, survived the holocaust much better than those who self-identified with pride of position (external and positional meaning).  The latter became camp zombies, but the others preserved their personalities.  This was confirmed in Bruno Bettelheim’s, The Informed Heart.  Two famous psychiatrists saw the truth.  

Any identity that is not secondary to our identity in God ultimately will lead to destruction, either of the individual or the individual and his partners in sin or the society that endorses sin.  Love offers the Gospel way out.  “Repent for the Kingdom of God is available to you.”  Idolatry is the root.  The answer is our self-definition in God, that we are created him his Image and are new creations in the Messiah.  The first is what we all are by creation and the second what we are in Him when we are born again.  

False self-definitions are sin.  The sinner sometimes identifies his sin itself as his identity.  “I am a ________ “  Then fill in the blank.  If you say they are in sin, the anger wells up because you put your finger on self-defining idolatry. 

In a recent post, I told the story of my return from agnosticism/skepticism so many years ago.  I used to say, “I am a skeptic.”  Then God showed up in my car on what was a dark country road in those days, Route 59 in Illinois.  The voice said, “You have gained an identity as a skeptic.”  It had become my identity.  Indeed, when I was at Wheaton College, a few charismatics used to cross themselves after they passed me so that they would not pick up my demon of doubt.  God said that I no longer needed to be a skeptic.  The evidence was sufficient, and I could now be a believer again.  It took some time yet, but I was on the way back. 

Agnosticism, integrity, and today’s young adults who abandon the faith

At 19 years old, in November 1966, I experienced a spiritual crash, an emotional breakdown.  I came home to my mother (I was a dorm resident in College) in unbelief and feeling like my whole world had blown up.  I ended up with a fine Psychiatrist, a believer.   He kept me alive. I now declared myself a skeptic, an agnostic. 

In this state, I visited my history of philosophy professor at The King’s College in New York (before I transferred to Wheaton College).  Dr. David Wolfe was a brilliant thinker.  When I declared myself an agnostic, he asked what kind of agnostic I would be.  Would I be an open or  closed agnostic?  The open one says, “I do not know and doubt that others know, but I am open to new evidence and argument that can convince me of the truth about the nature of reality.”  Then there is another divisions.  One is the agnostic without integrity.  He just asserts his agnosticism.  He does not seek out the evidence or reasons given by proponents of different world views, and having seriously studied them, concludes that he is still an agnostic.  However, if still open, new considerations may yield a different conclusion.  The agnostic without integrity does not go on a real search for the truth, but just asserts a stance.  It seems as if he desires agnosticism as his stand, a pre search heart commitment.  

There were two more important David Wolfe statements. One was that if we seek to find the truth we have to set the bar so it is not so high that evidence can not count. So for example, if you conclude God is either not good or existent due to evil and suffering in the world, then no evidence can count from intelligent design, the resurrection or miracles. We have to have a pre search standard whereby we will go one way or another. Also, the second is that all world views have problems. The issue is to choose the best among world views with the least amount of problems. So the problems in a materialistic world view are much greater.  One key is that people set themselves against God and want to live in their own way according to their desires.  Yeshua said, “If any man wills to do God’s will, he will know of the teaching.” (John 7:17)

Dr. Wolf convinced me to be an open agnostic with integrity.  But even so, there now was a proclivity to agnosticism, a pattern of thinking that was ingrained, what C. S. Lewis called the ruts of the brain.   However, I was serious enough that I started to read and study intensely.  I transferred to Wheaton College and studied philosophy of religion for two years plus other relevant courses in psychology, history and theology.  By the end of that two years, it was my conclusion that Christianity had more to accredit it than other religions.  However, it might be the best among all false religious views and that nihilism might be right.  At this point I spent two more years in graduate school majoring in philosophy of religion.  I also looked for miracles, to see proof of the supernatural realm.   In the Spiring of 1970, near to the end of that first grad school year, I concluded to the best of my ability that Christianity was true.  I had the help of spiritual father, the Chaplain of the student body at Wheaton, Dr. Evan Welsh.  I had some professors that were very helpful.  I had some experiences with God.  Today the evidence available is much stronger than when I was searching in those years.  I could explain how this is so at another time.

The 1960s was a time among the youth of searching for the truth.  Philosophy classes at universities were packed with truth seekers, though I am not convinced that philosophy in secular universities is helpful.  There was an orientation of seeking.  I wonder if this is a reason for the outpouring of the Spirit that became known as the Jesus Movement. 

Today it seems that young agnostics and atheists, especially from Christian backgrounds and Messianic Jewish backgrounds are hard hearted.  They are being discipled in the prevailing culture on the internet and ideologically driven colleges.  Many cannot be bothered to read a book on the issues. They are not searching.  They are not open agnostics or agnostics with integrity.  I think of how the great scholar Rodney Stark became a believer in his later years after a lifetime of agnosticism.  He seemed an open searcher.  This is a great concern to me.  I think we will need lots of prayer to see this turned around.  The decline of the numbers of believers is serous.  But God can breakthrough and awaken young adults to care.  So many do not care.  They want to determine their own lives, not to be submitted to any higher power, to live as they desire, and then to die.  There is no ultimate purpose or meaning.  Can they meet believers who are filled with joy and power and be so touched that they awaken?  Let’s pray for this. 

The Evidence of Pentecost and the Growth of the Early Church

The history of the early Church is amazing.  I use this term, early Church as the normal one for historians and recognize that we are speaking of a mostly Gentile movement, though Messianic Judaism continued for some time in Israel and Syria.  

I here describe the Church before Constantine (316 ff.) and the Council of Nicaea (325 A. D.).  

By the end of the sixth decade of the first century, Paul the Apostle could say that the Gospel had spread to all the world and was growing and triumphing everywhere.  (Col. 1:23) When Paul speaks of the whole world, he means the Roman ruled world, though there is evidence of spread even to India. The book of Acts gives us an accurate account of the development in Israel through chapter ten and then in the nations beginning in Acts 12 and 13.  Antioch was the center of what became a movement of faith among the Gentiles, though Paul first began his presentation in the synagogues.  There was a Jewish background in the synagogues of the Mediterranean world that enabled an easier understanding of the Gospel.  How do we account for this?  It can only be accounted for by the evidence of the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead, the event of the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, and the amazing confirming signs and wonders done in the name of Yeshua, Jesus.  The Book of Acts describes this well so that powerful healing came even from the shadow of Peter (Acts 5:15, 16)  and the handkerchiefs of Paul  (Acts 19:12).  

The early Church fathers. bishops of the cities, present a Church that continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  Signs and wonders continued.  It was mostly organized in-house gatherings.  As of yet, there were hardly any buildings for large gatherings.  However, it was not only the miraculous but the quality of the lives of the believers, highly moral, but filled with love, reaching out to all.  In the third century, maybe 1/3 of the population of the Roman Empire died of plagues.  The response of pagans to their sick was to flee and simply leave them to fend for themselves and die.  The Christians took care of their own sick and nursed them.  They also nursed the pagans (polytheists) who were sick.  As a result of prayers for healing and caring for the sick, their percent of survival was much higher.  Thus, by the end of the third century in the Roman world, the battle of Christianity with Paganism was largely won.  People came to faith in Yeshua in droves.  You can read the inspiring story in Rodney Stark’s The Triumph of Christianity. There were other Christian behaviors that won the day: caring for infants given over to infanticide by exposure, caring for the crippled, the poor, the sick in general and so much more. They were disciples of the teaching of Yeshua. 

In 316 A. D., the emperor Constantine became a Christian.  People debate whether his conversion was genuine or not.  They also debate whether it was a good thing or a bad thing since a generation later, the State Church system came into being. However, we can say he saw the “handwriting on the wall.”  He certainly knew he could not defeat them, so he joined them so that the Christian faith would unify his rule.  

The story of the triumph of Christianity over Paganism is a story that only makes sense based on supernatural power and on the basis that the Biblical faith is true. 

The Right of First Refusal 

Reading the New Covenant Scriptures in the light of the Hebrew Bible gives us a clear understanding of the priority of to whom we should first proclaim the Good News.  

In the Hebrew Bible, page after page tells us that God’s heart is for the poor, dispossessed, widow, orphan, disabled, and imprisoned.  We find this clearly in the ministry of Yeshua.  He proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom, first of all, to such people who were the most open to the Gospel.  In Luke 4:18, He quotes from Isaiah 61 which already summarized the priority of the pre-New Covenant prophets and looked forward to the coming of Yeshua.  He said, “The Spirit of the LORD is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, deliverance to the captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, and to proclaim the acceptable year of our Lord.”  The Isaiah 61 context is generally understood as having the Year of Jubilee in the background.  The intention of the Year of Jubilee was to give a reset to society, a new start for the population.  Debts were canceled and the land was returned to the original families of ownership.  Intergenerational wealth disparity was thus mitigated through land ownership and redistribution. The coming of Yeshua provided and provides a new start for the power of living in and from the Kingdom of God.  It provides a new opportunity and certainty of success for all who embrace it.  The Good News, as Dallas Willard explains, is again the “the invitation to live in and from the Kingdom of God.”  As such, by the power of the Spirit, God provides a good purpose and destiny now and forever for those who enter in through the death and resurrection of Yeshua, and who receive the Holy Spirit as God’s powerful presence within.  

Scholarship has also come to a much better understanding of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 (the plain in Luke 6).  The beatitudes (or those who blessed) are not a prescription of how we are to be blessed.  It is rather an announcement of a great reversal of conditions for the marginalized and mistreated.  Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, and the persecuted is the announcement that their difficult situation and marginalization is no longer determinative for their lives.  Those who are poor have Kingdom supernatural supply, those who mourn are delivered from mourning.  Mourning no longer dominates them for the comfort of the Kingdom has come.  So also, the meek are no longer trampled upon, but they have God’s power and inherit the earth.  This is very well laid out in Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy and in N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God. 

When the priority of the Church is according to the model of Yeshua, signs and wonders more readily follow to confirm the Gospel.   The pattern of Yeshua and the Disciples is repeated. As with Yeshua, some with wealth will also be reached as they see the power of the Gospel lifting, healing and restoring.  Yes, the Gospel will reach beyond the poor to the wealthy as it did in the ministry of Paul. 

The Bible presents us with a first right of refusal also for the Jewish people.  Romans 1:16 tells us that the “Gospel is the power of God first to the Jew and also to the Greek.”  The people of the covenants, therefore, have this very special right because they were and are God’s covenant people, who preserved the Covenants, the Scriptures, and have an irrevocable election and calling (Romans 11:29).  Therefore, we see Paul going first to the synagogue, not only because it was the easiest place for him to start in the Mediterranean world, but because of the first right of refusal.  “It was necessary for the Gospel to be spoken to you first (Acts 13:46). This continues throughout Paul’s ministry in Acts and is reaffirmed in Romans 1:16 and Romans 11:13, 14 where Paul charges the Gentiles to embrace their role in making Israel jealous since their reconciliation leads to living from the dead. (11:15)                                            

Was this right of refusal only for that generation?  Did that right end after the destruction of the Temple?  Or is it generation to generation until our day?  Yes, it continues, again since Israel is still chosen and elect and her salvation leads to the Second Coming of Yeshua.  The priority of the Gospel to the Jews must be embraced. 

If the Church had loved the Jewish people and given them their due and if she had given the Gospel first to the poor and downtrodden, the history of recent times would have been very different.  The Church would have more credibility today.  Let us restore credibility by restoring the priority for spreading the Gospel.                     

Yeshua’s Death, Resurrection, and Pentecost (Shavuot)

The capstone or climax of the life of Yeshua was his death and resurrection.  This death and resurrection led to a public event, an outpouring of the Spirit with parallels to the Sinai event when the Torah was given to Moses.  It is important to understand that all of the New Testament documents and testify to his crucifixion and resurrection after which He revealed himself to the disciples.  These documents present independent testimony to his death and resurrection.  These documents were then brought together afterward and formed the New Covenant Scriptures or the New Testament.  There is Matthew, Mark (that early tradition tells us was based on the preaching of Peter), Luke, John, Paul, the author of Hebrews, James (Jacob), Peter, and Jude.  

The four Gospels present us with an amazing account of his crucifixion and the other New Testament documents agree with the testimony; all given in the first century.  What do the Gospels say about this?  They tell us that Yeshua celebrated Passover with his disciples and instituted the Lord’s Supper in connection to that Passover.  They tell us that he afterward left for the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, was arrested, badly treated by both the Jewish police and then the Roman soldiers.  He was judged guilty by a representation of the Sanhedrin.  Then the Romans agreed to give into the will of the Jewish religious leaders and to have him crucified as a zealot in rebellion against Rome.  We are then told that they died in submission to God and in a spirit of forgiveness. Supernatural signs took place, darkness in mid-day, an earthquake, and the curtain of the Temple was torn in two. Then a rich man, Joseph of Arimathea, received his body for burial.  The Gospels then describe the disillusioned and fearful disciples.  Whenever the rest of the New Testament documents speak about his crucifixion and burial they agree with these accounts.  

Then on the first day of the week, the Feast of First-Fruits, early in the morning, women first discover that He was risen from the dead.  His body was not in the Tomb and did not undergo decomposition.  He then had a supernatural Body.  He appeared to the smaller group of disciples, but I Cor. 15 adds that he appeared to 500 at the same time, most of whom were alive when Paul wrote this amazing chapter, in the 40s A. D., soon after the events. 

The historian of the Roman Empire period, A. Sherwin White, tells us that the events of the New Testament and the story of Yeshua are the best documented or attested of any historical figure from that era, by far more than Julius Caesar.  

The Book of Acts, written by Luke, who professes his desire to provide accurate historical accounts, presents the narrative that Yeshua appeared and taught on the Kingdom off and on for 40 days after his resurrection. He then brought his Disciples up to the Mount of Olives, and after giving them instructions to wait together in Jerusalem until they would receive a great outpouring of the Holy Spirit. From there they would be his witnesses.  In Acts 2 we read of this great outpouring of the Spirit.  When the Spirit was poured out, the larger group of disciples (120) were able to speak in several languages they had never learned and to proclaim the Gospel on the  Temple Mount to the multitude of Jews from other nations who spoke other languages.  They had come up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Shavuot  (Pentecost).   This was an astonishing miracle where Jews from many nations heard the Gospel.  Thousands repented and were immersed in water in the name of Yeshua.  It is likely that many stayed in Jerusalem, and in no time many thousands were now in the house gatherings in Jerusalem overseen by the Disciples (Apostles).

There is no parallel to these accounts in any nation or culture outside of Israel.  It is astonishing. However, how do we weigh the credibility of the New Testament witness?   Already, in the pages of the New Testament, we read that the Apostles went from fear to become bold witnesses after Pentecost.  The earliest post-biblical Church history tells us that all of the 12 died as martyrs for their faith.  John lived to old age and was exiled on the island of Patmos.  The testimony of the early Church Fathers confirms the truth of the martyrdom of the Apostles.  Clement of Rome, Polycarp (who knew John), and Ignatius are three early witnesses.  

In conclusion, we can be confident that the New Testament presents an accurate account of the life, death, and resurrection of Yeshua plus Pentecost and that we can base our lives on the Gospel and the teaching of Yeshua and the Apostles who gave us the New Testament.  

Evidence from the Life of Yeshua; Part I: Fulfilled Prophecy 

The Four Gospels provide the historical picture narrative of Yeshua’s ministry on the earth. Matthew and Mark include birth stories and Luke one story from when He was 12 years old.  The summary case for the historical trustworthiness of these Gospels will be in another later essay.  At this point, I want to assert that the Gospels were all written during the period when the Apostles who were his disciples were still alive. They claimed to be eyewitnesses.  

The Gospels report the story of a man who did amazing miracles both in large numbers and with a quality that could not be explained by natural causes.  They also report a way of love and teaching on ethics or right and wrong behavior that was full of love and went beyond anything that was ever taught before, even beyond the Hebrew Scriptures.  The Gospels also report that Yeshua fulfilled the prophecies of the Messiah from the Hebrew Bible.  Some of these prophecies are clear predictions and others are a fulfillment of types   Types foreshadow the Messiah. For example, the King of Israel, Solomon, is described in Psalm 72 in ways that go well beyond what Solomon could fulfill.  The Psalm in several verses only can be literally true of the Messiah King.  However, other texts are amazingly predictive and literal.  These fulfilments have a clear supernatural character, but the former also give us evidence.  

The most amazing text on the future Messiah is Isaiah 53.  This text is the climax of a series of texts on the Servant of the LORD; Isaiah 42, 49, 50, and 53.  As the prediction of the final and everlasting ruling King of Isaiah 2 and 11, He is the one who is a banner for the nations, not only for Israel.  He is a light to the nations in Isaiah 42 and will rule over all nations as in the earlier text. It is easy to see that this one is the same person.  Yet as we progress through these texts, we find suffering as well, the suffering comes to its climax.  The Messiah King in these texts is called the Servant of the LORD.  Israel in other texts is also called the servant of the Lord, but here the Messiah is the representative King of Israel, the ultimate Servant.   In Isaiah 53 we find that his people, the Jewish people, do not receive the report of who He is.  He is, “Despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”  His death is a sacrifice for our sins, for He was, “Wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement for our peace was upon him.”  “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way and that LORD has laid upon Him the iniquity of us all.”   We find that he was numbered with transgressors in his death.  Yeshua died between two criminals.  Yet, the text implies resurrection for “He will see his offspring. He will prolong his days.”  He will be satisfied with what He accomplished.   This text alone has convinced many to believe in Yeshua. 

However, there are other texts that are remarkable. Perhaps the most remarkable is Daniel 9:24 ff.  In these texts, weeks of years, by the understanding of almost all, 490 years.  A decree goes forth and after the time allotted the Messiah is cut off.  The calculation takes us to the time of Yeshua’s death.  This is why some Rabbis wondered if the Messiah had already come.  After his death, a prince would come and destroy the city and the sanctuary.  Daniel was writing when the First Temple had been destroyed and the second had not yet been built. Now he says that the Messiah will die before the second Temple is destroyed.  This happened in 70 A. D. some 40 years after the death and resurrection of Yeshua.  Yeshua predicted this destruction toward the end of his life on earth. 

Micha 5:2 tells us that the Messiah, the one who is to rule Israel forever, will be born in Bethlehem. There are many other amazing texts.  Zechariah 9:9 tells us that the Messiah Prince will ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.  Zechariah also indicates his death, for when the Shepherd is smitten, the sheep will be scattered.  (Zech. 13).  Yet, it also says that someday the Jewish people will look on Him who they have pierced, and mourn for him.  The picture of Joshua, the high priest in Zechariah 4, is a picture of the Messiah.  He has the same name.  

There are whole books written in much detail on the fulfillment of prophecy.  They give strong evidence for our faith in Yeshua.