Damien F. Mackey
‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!’
Once I had a lively encounter with a Moslem at a bus stop in Earlwood (Sydney, Australia). Our discussion, generally friendly, sometimes a bit noisy, attracted the attention of bystanders who listened, smiled or laughed, and even occasionally joined in. The question that this man seemed most eager to ask, and for which he dearly wanted an answer, was this:
‘What do you think of Muhammad?’
Whatever an individual Christian may think of Muhammad, or Mohammed, the real question that should most preoccupy his or her mind is that burning question that Jesus himself was most desirous of asking, and for which He awaited an answer:
‘Who do men say that I am?’
This question is posed in all three Synoptic Gospels.
The fact is that Jesus’ contemporaries were not really sure who he was. ‘Elijah’, said some. ‘John the Baptist’, said others. ‘One of the prophets returned from the dead’. Or, perhaps, ‘Jeremiah’. Some great man, for sure, but not one utterly unique.
It was the Apostle Peter who, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gave the right answer when the question was personalised by Jesus to: ‘Who do you say that I am?’; though Peter still had very much to learn about the significance of what he had proclaimed, for he would soon be rebuked by Jesus as a ‘Satan’ (Mark 8:33).
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has marvellously discussed the whole question of Jesus’ identity – and the contrast between opinions of, and belief in, Him – in Chapter 9 of his book, Jesus of Nazareth, beginning with (pp. 287-288):
All three Synoptic Gospels present Jesus’ question to the disciples about who the people think he is and who they themselves consider him to be – (Mk 8:27-30; Mt 16:13-20; Lk 9:18-21) as an important milestone on his way. In all three Gospels, Peter answers in the name of the Twelve with a confession that is markedly different from the opinion of the “people”. …. In all three Gospels, however, he also interprets this “following” on the way of the Cross from an essentially anthropological standpoint: It is the indispensable way for man to “lose his life”, without which it is impossible to find it (Mk 8:31-9:1; Mt 16:21-28; Lk 9:22-27).
And finally, in all three Gospels there follows the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus, which once again interprets Peter’s confession and takes it deeper, while at the same time connecting it with the mystery of Jesus’ death and Resurrection (Mk 9:2-13; Mt 17:1-13; Lk 9:28-36).
Only Matthew immediately follows Peter’s confession with the bestowal upon Peter of the power of the keys – of the power to bind and loose – and this is connected with Jesus’ promise to build his Church upon Peter as on a rock. Parallel passages concerning this commission and this promise are found in Luke 22:31f. in the context of the Last Supper and in John 21:15-19 after Jesus’ Resurrection.
It should be pointed out that John, too, places a similar confession on Peter’s lips, which once again is presented as a decisive milestone on Jesus’ way, giving the circle of the Twelve its full weight and profile for the first time (Jn 6:68f.) ….
[End of quote]
So, what was the answer that Peter gave, that so pleased Jesus?
Peter had replied (Matthew 16:16):
‘Thou art the Christ [or the Messiah], the Son of the living God!’
To which Jesus responded: ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven’ (v. 17).
Clearly there were now two basic views abroad about the identity of Jesus: the one, his “unique filial being”, as the Pope puts it – as Peter was inspired to utter (“Peter’s confession”) – and the other, the common one of the people. Pope Benedict goes on to tell how the former view, the correct one, crystallised in the disciples who were now “on the way”, distinguishing them from the people (op. cit., pp. 290-291):
The great period of preaching in Galilee is at an end and we are at a decisive milestone: Jesus is setting out on the journey to the Cross and issuing a call to decision that now clearly distinguishes the group of disciples from the people who merely listen, without accompanying him on his way – a decision that clearly shapes the disciples into the beginning of Jesus’ new family, the future Church. It is characteristic of this community to be “on the way” with Jesus – what that way involves is about to be made clear. It is also characteristic that this community’s decision to accompany Jesus rests upon a realization – on a “knowledge” of Jesus that at the same time gives them a new insight into God, the one God in whom they believe as children of Israel.
In Luke – and this is entirely in keeping with his portrait of the figure of Jesus – Peter’s confession is connected with a prayer event. Luke begins his account of the story with a deliberate paradox: “As he was praying alone, the disciples were with him” (Lk 9:18). The disciples are drawn into his solitude, his communion with the Father that is reserved to him alone. They are privileged to see him as the one who – as we reflected at the beginning of this book – speaks face-to-face with the Father, person to person. ….
[End of quote]
This ‘speaking face-to-face with the Father’ will become a most important consideration when, further on, we consider a challenge by another Moslem, Islamic missionary Ahmed Deedat of Indian–South African descent (now deceased), that Jesus Christ could not have been the one foretold to Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18: “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee …”, but that Mohammed was that one. We are going to find that, whilst Deedat’s Christian opponent, a dominee (or minister) of the Dutch Reformed Church, was not really able adequately to counter the Moslem’s forceful argument, pope Benedict XVI has, in his book, provided the perfect answer to an argument such as Deedat’s. Whether the many will respond to it, though, and enter upon “the way”, or just the few as in the case of the disciples, remains to be seen. For those who do make the leap in faith, then the privileges are untold and unique. Thus the Pope continues (pp. 291-292):
[The Twelve] are privileged to see him in his utterly unique filial being – at the point from which all his words, his deeds, and his powers issue. They are privileged to see what the “people” do not see, and this seeing gives rise to a recognition that goes beyond the “opinion” of the people. This seeing is the wellspring of their faith, their confession; it provides the foundation for the Church.
Here we may identify the interior location of Jesus’ two-fold question. His inquiry about the opinion of the people and the conviction of the disciples presupposes two things. On the one hand, there is an external knowledge of Jesus that, while not necessarily false, is inadequate. On the other hand, there is a deeper knowledge that is linked to discipleship, to participation in Jesus’ way, and such knowledge can grow only in that context. All three Synoptics agree in recounting the opinion of the people that Jesus is John the Baptist, or Elijah, or some other of the Prophets returned from the dead; Luke has just told us that Herod, having heard about such accounts of Jesus’ person and activity, felt a wish to see him. Matthew adds an additional variation: the opinion of some that Jesus is Jeremiah.
The common element in all these ideas is that Jesus is classified in the category “prophet”, an interpretative key drawn from the tradition of Israel. All the names that are mentioned as interpretations of the figure of Jesus have an eschatological ring to them, the expectation of a radical turn of events that can be associated both with hope and with fear. While Elijah personifies hope for the restoration of Israel, Jeremiah is a figure of the Passion, who proclaims the failure of the current form of the Covenant and of the Temple that, so to speak, serves as its guarantee. Of course, he is also the bearer of the promise of a New Covenant that is destined to rise from the ashes.
By his suffering, by his immersion in the darkness of contradiction, Jeremiah bears this twofold destiny of downfall and renewal in his own life.
These various opinions are not simply mistaken; they are greater or lesser approximations to the mystery of Jesus, and they can certainly set us on the path towards Jesus’ real identity. But they do not arrive at Jesus’ identity, at his newness. They interpret him in terms of the past, in terms of the predictable and the possible, not in terms of himself, his uniqueness, which cannot be assigned to any other category. Today, too, similar opinions are clearly held by the “people” who have somehow or other come to know Christ, who have perhaps even made a scholarly study of him, but have not encountered Jesus himself in his utter uniqueness and otherness. Karl Jaspers spoke of Jesus alongside Socrates, the Buddha, and Confucius as one of the four paradigmatic individuals. He thus acknowledged that Jesus is of fundamental significance in the search for the right way to be human. Yet for all that, Jesus remains one among others grouped within a common category, in terms of which they can be explained and also delimited.
[End of quote]
Pope Benedict XVI accounts for the utter uniqueness of Jesus Christ, as opposed to a “common” view of him – an old but also a contemporary view – as just one amongst a group of history’s most enlightened individuals. But we are also going to introduce into this discussion, Mohammed, to whom the Pope did not refer.
Pope Benedict XVI continues his critical account of the typical view of Jesus Christ, whereby “man, the individual subject … ends up being himself the measure”.
See also on this subject my multi-part series, beginning with:
The Futile Aspiration to Make ‘Man the Measure of All Things’
Thus Benedict XVI writes (op. cit., p. 293):
Today it is fashionable to regard Jesus as one of the great religious founders who were granted a profound experience of God. They can thus speak of God to other people who have been denied this “religious disposition”, as it were, drawing them into their own experience of God. However, we are still dealing here with a human experience of God that reflects his infinite reality in the finitude and limitation of a human spirit: It can therefore never amount to more than a partial, not to mention time- and space-bound, translation of the divine. The word experience thus indicates on one hand a real contact with the divine, while also acknowledging the limitation of the receiving subject. Every human subject can capture only a particular fragment of the reality that is there to be perceived, and this fragment then requires further interpretation. Someone who holds this opinion can certainly love Jesus; he can even choose him as a guide for his own life. Ultimately, though, this notion of Jesus’ “experience of God” remains purely relative and needs to be supplemented by the fragments of reality perceived by other great men. It is man, the individual subject, who ends up being himself the measure: The individual decides what he is going to accept from the various “experiences”, what he finds helpful and what he finds alien. There is no definitive commitment here.
[End of quote]
This really sums up the Moslem view, too, of Jesus as a great prophet, “peace be upon him”, though lesser than Mohammed himself. In fact it also sums up the Moslem God, Allah, as one derived from man’s being the measure, not God. Though it does not mean that a Moslem cannot love and serve God (as according to the Pope’s explanation regarding “love” of Jesus Christ even without full knowledge of him), and that he cannot “choose him as a guide for his own life”.
However, there is also that true saying that ‘one cannot love what one does not know’, which, in our context, could be re-stated as ‘one’s capacity for loving Jesus Christ must be greatly enlarged by one’s having a proper concept of who He is, according to the Pope’s explanation’.
Similarly, a God of whom Jesus Christ is not the perfect image and reflection is not God in his true actuality. He cannot therefore be loved as a St. Augustine, for instance, loved God, Christo-centrically. It is only through Jesus Christ that God can truly be known.
‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9).
Why Islam thinks that Mohammed, not Jesus,
was foretold by Moses
We are now going to conclude by looking at Ahmed Deedat’s argument (much edited) against the South African Christian dominee. Deedat’s argument might throw many a Christian, as it apparently gave trouble to the dominee. But it would not throw the Pope, who has authoritatively shown how Jesus Christ, and He alone, was the fulfilment of the One whom Moses had foretold.
Islamic lecturer, Ahmed Deedat, tells of an interview he once had with a dominee of the Dutch Reformed Church in Transvaal, van Heerden, on the question: “What does the Bible say about Muhummed?” Deedat had in mind the Qur’an [Koran] verse 46:10, according to which “a witness among the children of Israel bore witness of one like him…”.
This was in turn a reference to Deuteronomy 18:18’s “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and I will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” The Moslems of course interpret the “Prophet … like unto [Moses]” as being Mohammed himself.
Faced with the dominee’s emphatic response that the Bible has “nothing” to say about Mohammed – and that the Deuteronomic prophecy ultimately pertained to Jesus Christ, as did “thousands” of other prophecies – Deedat set out to prove him wrong. Firstly he asked the dominee: Out of the ‘thousands’ of prophecies referred to, can you please give me just one single prophecy where Jesus is mentioned by name? The term ‘Messiah’, translated as ‘Christ’, is not a name but a title. Is there a single Prophecy where it says that the name of the Messiah will be JESUS, and that his mother’s name will be MARY, that his supposed father will be JOSEPH THE CARPENTER; that he will be born in the reign of HEROD THE KING, etc. etc.? No! There are no such details! Then how can you conclude that those ‘thousand’ Prophecies refer to Jesus (Peace be upon him)?
To which the dominee replied: “You see, prophecies are word-pictures of something that is going to happen in the future. When that thing actually comes to pass, we see vividly in these prophecies the fulfilment of what had been predicted in the past”. Deedat responded: “What you actually do is that you deduce, you reason, you put two and two together.” He said: “Yes”.
Deedat said: “If this is what you have to do with a ‘thousand’ prophecies to justify your claim with regards to the genuineness of Jesus, why should we not adopt the very same system for Muhummed?”
The dominee agreed that it was a fair proposition, a reasonable way of dealing with the problem. He argued that the key phrase in the Deuteronomic prophecy was “like unto thee” – LIKE YOU – like Moses, and Jesus is like Moses”.
Deedat questioned: “In which way is Jesus like Moses?”
The answer was: “In the first place Moses was a JEW and Jesus was also a JEW; secondly, Moses was a PROPHET and Jesus was also a PROPHET – therefore Jesus is like Moses and that is exactly what God had foretold Moses – “SOOS JY IS” [in Afrikaans]”.
Whilst the dominee’s reply here is basically true (though Moses was strictly speaking not a Jew, but a Hebrew or Israelite – ‘all Jews are Israelites, but not all Israelites are Jews’) – he probably gets off on the wrong foot straightaway by attributing to Jesus what could be attributed to any number of Jewish prophets. In other words, he does not begin with what makes Jesus unique, and with – in the context of Moses – what makes Him “like” the latter, but unique nevertheless, as explained by the Pope. Now, whether someone will listen attentively to the argument is another matter. I, for instance, fresh from reading Pope Benedict XVI, had used his main point in my discussion with the Moslem. But it seemed not in any way to have been absorbed. However, the important thing is that we know what the answer is, and can enunciate it. And, hopefully, there will be some who will be able to comprehend it. It is greatly to be hoped that the Pope’s book will be read, studied and absorbed by many.
Deedat quickly realizes that his opponent has not attributed to Jesus anything singular. “Can you think of any other similarities between Moses and Jesus?” Deedat asked.
The dominee said that he could not think of any.
Deedat replied: “If these are the only two criteria for discovering a candidate for this prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:18, then in that case the criteria could fit any one of the following Biblical personages after Moses: – Solomon, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Malachi, John the Baptist etc., because they were also ALL Jews as well as Prophets.
Why should we not apply this prophecy to any one of these prophets, and why only to Jesus? Why should we make fish of one and fowl of another?”
[Or why, one might ask, does Islam not say that the prophecy was in fact referring to one of these above-mentioned sages of Israel?].
The dominee had no reply.
Deedat continued: “You see, my conclusions are that Jesus is most unlike Moses, and if I am wrong I would like you to correct me”.
So saying, Deedat reasoned with him: “In the FIRST place Jesus is not like Moses, because, according to you – ‘JESUS IS A GOD’, but Moses is not God. Is this true?”
He said: “Yes”.
Deedat said: “Therefore, Jesus is not like Moses!
SECONDLY, according to you – ‘JESUS DIED FOR THE SINS OF THE WORLD’, but Moses did not have to die for the sins of the world. Is this true?”
He again said: Yes”.
Deedat said: “Therefore Jesus is not like Moses! THIRDLY, according to you – ‘JESUS WENT TO HELL FOR THREE DAYS’, but Moses did not have to go there. Is this true?”
He answered meekly: “Y-e-s”.
Deedat concluded: “Therefore Jesus is not like Moses!” “But dominee”, Deedat continued: “these are not hard facts, solid facts, they are mere matters of belief over which the little ones can stumble and fall. Let us discuss something very simple, very easy that if your little ones are called in to hear the discussion, would have no difficulty in following it, shall we?”
The dominee was quite happy at the suggestion. Deedat will now proceed to list a whole lot of biographical points according to which Moses and Mohammed – human persons who were married and had children – were alike, but were quite unlike Jesus. This is to prove his point that Mohammed, not Jesus, was ‘like unto Moses’, and that Mohammed, therefore, and not Jesus, was the one who fulfilled the Deuteronomic prophecy.
We shall take only a few of these cases from Deedat’s long-winded and well-rehearsed spiel:
Father and Mother
“Moses had a father and a mother. Muhummed also had a father and a mother. But Jesus had only a mother, and no human father. Is this true?” He said: “Yes”. Deedat said: “DAAROM IS JESUS NIE SOOS MOSES NIE, MAAR MUHUMMED IS SOOS MOSES!” Meaning: “Therefore Jesus is not like Moses, but Muhummed is like Moses!”
“Moses and Muhummed were born in the normal, natural course, i.e. the physical association of man and woman; but Jesus was created by a special miracle. You will recall that we are told in the Gospel of St. Matthew 1:18: ‘…..BEFORE THEY CAME TOGETHER, (Joseph the Carpenter and Mary) SHE WAS FOUND WITH CHILD BY THE HOLY GHOST’. And Dr. Luke tells us that when the good news of the birth of a holy son was announced to her, Mary reasoned: ‘…….HOW SHALL THIS BE, SEEING I KNOW NOT A MAN? AND THE ANGEL ANSWERED AND SAID UNTO HER, THE HOLY GHOST SHALL COME UPON THEE, AND THE POWER OF THE HIGHEST SHALL OVERSHADOW THEE:……’ (Luke 1:35).
In short, Deedat said to the dominee: “Is it true that Jesus was born miraculously as against the natural birth of Moses and Muhummed?” He replied proudly: “Yes!” Deedat said: “Therefore Jesus is not like Moses, but Muhummed is like Moses. And God says to Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy 18:18 “LIKE UNTO THEE” (Like You, Like Moses) and Muhummed is like Moses”.
“Moses and Muhummed married and begat children, but Jesus remained a bachelor all his life. Is this true?” The dominee said: “Yes”. Deedat said: “Therefore Jesus is not like Moses, but Muhummed is like Moses”.
Jesus Rejected by his People
“Moses and Muhummed were accepted as prophets by their people in their very lifetime. No doubt the Jews gave endless trouble to Moses and they murmured in the wilderness, but as a nation, they acknowledged that Moses was a Messenger of God sent to them. The Arabs too made Muhummed’s life impossible. He suffered very badly at their hands. After 13 years of preaching in Mecca, he had to emigrate from the city of his birth. But before his demise, the Arab nation as a whole accepted him as the Messenger of Allah. But according to the Bible: ‘He (Jesus) CAME UNTO HIS OWN, BUT HIS OWN RECEIVED HIM NOT’. (John 1:11). And even today, after two thousand years, his people – the Jews, as a whole, have rejected him. Is this true?” The dominee said: “Yes”. Deedat said: “THEREFORE JESUS IS NOT LIKE MOSES, BUT MUHUMMED IS LIKE MOSES”. …
How they Departed
“Both Moses and Muhummed died natural deaths, but according to Christianity, Jesus was violently killed on the cross. Is this true?” The dominee said: “Yes”. Deedat averred: “Therefore Jesus is not like Moses but Muhummed is like Moses”.
And so it goes on, with Deedat, like an eager prize fighter, landing virtually all of the punches, and becoming ever more emboldened and aggressive.
‘What do you think of Muhammad?’, the similarly keen and feisty Moslem in Earlwood had been so keen to ask me.
My answer to this today would be: “There was no historical prophet Mohammed!”
Above, I had queried, in the context of Deedat’s argument: “… why, one might ask, does Islam not say that the [Deuteronomic] prophecy was in fact referring to one of these above-mentioned [by Deedat] sages of Israel?”
Let me explain what I am getting at. The Koran (Qur’an) is, broadly speaking, so much like the Old Testament in many places that one could argue that it is simply the latter mixed with a lot of Arabic folklore and mythology, and derived from much unreliable oral tradition. In the Koran we meet again with all of the familiar Hebrew patriarchal and prophetical characters and sages of the Old Testament.
There are also the serious problems of chronology and geography.
To give just one series of examples of these, see my multi-part series beginning with:
Durie’s Verdict: No Mohammed
There are chronological problems, not only with the supposed life of Mohammed himself, and the writings, but also with the early history of Islam.
Books have been written ‘In Search of the Historical Mohammed’, who can be something of a conundrum. There are even certain aspects associated with Mohammed that I think seem to parallel Jesus Christ; mainly the spiritual or miraculous, since Deedat is quite right in arguing that there can be no worthwhile comparison between the details of the lives of Jesus and Mohammed.
‘Mohammed’ seems to be, at least in part, something of a composite biblical character.
He is quite un-historical as regards the C7th AD.
Jesus a son of King David
“When Joseph adopted Jesus as his legal son, Jesus became both David’s direct descendent through David’s son Nathan (Mary’s side), and David’s legal royal heir through Solomon (Joseph’s side)”.
According to this website:
Jesus Christ is:
The Only Possible Legitimate Messiah
Matthew, who is the most Jewish of the Gospels, begins with the words, “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
Is Jesus Christ the legitimate heir to the throne of King David? How can we be sure that He is the only possible legal, and the royal Messiah of Israel?
The Scriptures declare that Jesus Christ “was a descendent of David.” Therefore His Jewish ancestry is very important to establish His legitimacy as the Jewish messiah.
Two Lineages of the Son of David
God “promised beforehand through the prophets in the holy scriptures” things concerning the coming of the son of David. Those things related to the place, nature of His birth, life, death and resurrection. His Jewish background would demand that He be born of the line of David if He would be eligible to sit on the great king’s throne and reign forever as the true king of Israel.
The prophet Jeremiah was specific when he wrote in 23:5-6 of the coming of the royal son of David:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch;
And He will reign as king and act wisely
And do justice and righteousness in the land.
“In His days Judah will be saved,
And Israel will dwell securely;
And this is His name by which He will be called,
‘The Lord our righteousness.’”
The Jewish writer Matthew uses the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth to prove that Jesus had descended from King David and therefore qualified to be Israel’s Messiah (2 Samuel 7:13-16). The promise had been given to King David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before Me” (2 Samuel 7:16).
Matthew uses at least forty formal quotations from the Old Testament, and at least sixteen times he uses the formula, “all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet saying . . .” Matthew traces the origins of Jesus to King David and to the Jewish patriarch Abraham.
Matthew begins his genealogy with Abraham and moves forward through fourteen generations in history to David, and then his descendents through fourteen generations to the Babylonian exile, and another fourteen generations to “Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matt. 1:16).
Another genealogy is given by Luke, which moves in the opposite direction. He begins with Joseph and goes back to David, Abraham and Adam (Luke 3:31, 34, 38). He is giving evidence to show that Jesus “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (1:32-33).
Both of the genealogies are dealing with the same person, Jesus the Messiah. Both trace the lineage of Jesus through His adopted father Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born.
Legal and Royal Rights to the Throne of David
The difficulty we encounter when we look at the two genealogies is quite interesting. They are the lines of two brothers and the children are cousins. Matthew says that Joseph was the son of Jacob who descended from David through David’s son and successor King Solomon (1:6). However, Luke says that Joseph was the son of Heli who had descended from David through Nathan (Luke 3:31), who was also David’s son and a brother of Solomon (v. 32).
Bernhard Weiss and James Orr carefully note that we are looking at two lineages of Joseph and Mary respectively, each who are descendents of King David. “Nathan’s line ran on through the years and ultimately produced the Virgin Mary. Solomon’s line ran on through the years and ultimately produced Joseph.” But Joseph was not the father of Jesus. He was the husband of Mary, the adoptive father of Jesus (Matt. 1:16). The distinction between these two lines of descent from David is between the “royal” line of those who actually sat on the throne and the “legal” line of descent from one oldest son to the next, even though these descendents never actually reigned as kings of Israel.
It is important to keep in mind these two lines of descendents from King David.
Nathan was the older brother of Solomon, but the younger brother took the throne. Solomon was the king God chose to reign after David’s death. Normally, however, that would have fallen to the elder son, Nathan, who would have been king if God had not given it to Solomon. Of course, none of Nathan’s descendents ever claimed the throne.
There were no reigning kings in his line of descendents, even though they had the legal right to the throne. When Joseph adopted Jesus as his legal son, Jesus became both David’s direct descendent through David’s son Nathan (Mary’s side), and David’s legal royal heir through Solomon (Joseph’s side).
The line of Solomon continued down through the centuries until it eventually produced Joseph, who was betrothed to the virgin Mary who would eventually become her husband after she had given birth to Jesus. However, note very carefully that Jesus was not a descendent of Joseph. However, when Joseph took Mary under his protection and thus became the adoptive father of her divine child, he passed the right of royalty to Jesus.
A Divine Curse
Moreover, Jeremiah 22:30 tells us that if Jesus had been the physical descended from Joseph a divine curse would have been on Him if He succeeded to the Davidic throne. Jeremiah tells us a terrible curse was pronounced on king Jehoiachin (Jechonias, whom Jeremiah abbreviates to Coniah), the last of the actual reigning kings who descended from King Solomon.
“Thus says the Lord,
‘Write this man down childless,
A man who will not prosper in his days;
For no man of his descendants will prosper
Sitting on the throne of David
Or ruling again in Judah.’ ”
Because of God’s curse on Jehoiachin, no king who ever descended in that line could be a legitimate king. “Thus says the Lord, �Write this man down childless, A man who will not prosper in his days; For no man of his descendants will prosper Sitting on the throne of David Or ruling again in Judah … (NET). Though Jehoiachin did have children, he was considered childless because none of his descendents were allowed by God to sit on the throne of David and rule Judah (1 Chron. 3:17). Judah’s lat king was his uncle, Zedekiah. the line of rulership passed through Jeconiah’s sons though none of them ever occupied the throne.
If Joseph had been the physical father of Jesus, Jesus could not have been the Messiah. Jesus is the son of Mary, not the son of Joseph and Mary. If Jesus had been a physical descendent of Joseph and not virgin-born, He would have been disqualified because of this divine curse.
But wait. What about Joseph and his descendents? Remember, Jesus was not a physical descendent of Joseph. Joseph was Jesus’ step-father. Joseph, a descendent of Solomon, with Jesus’ legal father, therefore, His right to the throne came through His legal father.
Each of his half brothers, who were the only other possible candidates for the Messiah had the curse of Jehoiachin on them and would have passed it on to their children if they had become king.
A Royal Heir
Because Jesus was a divine child his adoptive father handed the reign over to Him. Therefore, Jesus was a legitimate royal heir to the throne.
Many bible scholars follow this same line of thought. Donald Grey Barnhouse gives an excellent summary. The line that had no curse upon it produced Heli and his daughter the Virgin Mary and her Son Jesus Christ. He is therefore eligible by the line of Nathan and exhausts that line. The line that had a curse on it produced Joseph and exhausts the line of Solomon, for Joseph’s other children now have an elder brother who, legally, by adoption, is the royal heir.
How can the title be free in any case? A curse on one line and the lack of reigning royalty in the other.
But when God the Holy Spirit begat the Lord Jesus Christ in the womb of the virgin without any use of a human father, the child that was born was the seed of David according to the flesh. And when Joseph married Mary and took the unborn child under his protecting care, giving him the title that had come down to him through his ancestor Solomon, the Lord Jesus became the legal Messiah, the royal messiah, the uncursed messiah, the true Messiah, the only possible messiah. The lines are exhausted. Any man that ever comes into this world professing to fulfill the conditions will be a liar and the child of the devil (Man’s Ruin: Exposition of Bible Doctrines, Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure, vol. 1, Romans 1:1-32. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952, p. 45-47).
A Legal Heir
Moreover, because Jesus descended from Mary, who also was a descendent of King David through the lineage of Nathan, He had a legal claim to the throne. The two lines of David focused on the Messiah. No one else could ever bring a legitimate claim to the throne of David.
Luke presented the physical line of Jesus through His mother who descended from David through the line of Nathan (Luke 3:31). in this way Jesus escaped the curse of Jehoiachin.
Donald Barnhouse concludes, “If Jesus is not the Messiah who has descended from David according to the Old Testament prophecies, there will never be a Messiah.
For Jesus had no human children, and each of his brothers (who are the only other possibilities through whom another messiah might descend) had the curse on him and would have passed it on to his children” and Jeremiah’s prophecy would thus be fulfilled.
Jesus Christ is the legitimate descendent from two lines of King David. He is the King announced in the Jewish prophecies. He is the King Messiah who was also the Son of God. He is the “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” No one else can make that claim. He is the only possible legitimate Messiah. There can absolutely be no other.
How significant that the great prophecy that the Messiah King would come through the line of David was given just a few verses after the great words of judgment on the descendents of Jehoiachin. C. C. Ryrie notes, “If Jesus had been born only in the line of Joseph (and thus of Jechoniah, Heb. Coniah), He would not have been qualified to reign on the throne of David in the Millennium.” He also writes, “Had our Lord been the natural son of Joseph, He could not have been successful on the throne of David because of this curse. But since He came through Mary’s lineage, He was not affected by this curse.” There was no curse on Nathan’s line.
Though Jechoniah’s sons never occupied the throne, the line of rulership passed through them. If Jesus had been a physical descendent of Jechoniah, He would not have been able to occupy David’s throne. Luke’s genealogy makes it clear that Jesus was a legal descendant of David through his son Nathan (Lk. 3:31). Joseph, a descendent of Solomon, was Jesus’ legal adoptive father, so Jesus traced His royal rights to the throne through Joseph.
Jesus Christ is the only legitimate legal Jewish Messiah. Let us bow and worship Him as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. ….
Jesus as the New Moses
“Grounding his core premise on the fact of the intimate unity between the Old and
the New Testament, and drawing on the Christological hermeneutics that see in
Jesus Christ the key to the entire Bible, Benedict XVI presents the Jesus of the Gospels as the “new Moses” who fulfills Israel’s ancient expectations (Page 1)”.
At this website:
we encounter this relevant synopsis of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI’s book, Jesus of Nazareth:
ROME, APRIL 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is the synopsis of Benedict XVI’s book “Jesus of Nazareth,” released by the Italian publisher Rizzoli, which has handled worldwide sale of the rights to the work.
The Pope’s Path to Jesus
A personal meditation, not an exercise of the magisterium
This book is the first part of a work, the writing of which, as its author states, was preceded by a “long gestation” (Page xi). It reflects Joseph Ratzinger’s personal search for the “face of the Lord” and is not intended to be a document forming part of the magisterium (Page xxiii).
“Everyone is free, then, to contradict me,” the Pontiff stresses in the foreword (Page xxiv). The main purpose of the work is “to help foster [in the reader] the growth of a living relationship” with Jesus Christ (Page xxiv). In an expected second volume the Pope hopes “also to be able to include the chapter on the [infancy] narratives” concerning the birth of Jesus and to consider the mystery of his passion, death and resurrection.
It is primarily, therefore, a pastoral book. But it is also the work of a rigorous theologian, who justifies his assertions based on exhaustive knowledge of sacred texts and critical literature. He underlines the indispensability of a historical-critical method for serious exegesis, but also highlights its limits: “Admittedly, to believe that, as man, he [Jesus] truly was God exceeds the scope of the historical method” (Page xxiii).
And yet, “Without anchoring in God, the person of Jesus remains shadowy, unreal, and unexplainable” (Schnackenburg, “Freundschaft mit Jesus,” Page 322). In confirming this conclusion of a notable Roman Catholic representative of historical-critical exegesis, the Pope states that his book “sees Jesus in light of his communion with the Father” (Page xiv).
In addition, based on “reading the individual texts of the Bible in the context of the whole” — a reading that “does not contradict historical-critical interpretation, but carries it forward in an organic way toward becoming theology in the proper sense” (Page xix) — the author presents “the Jesus of the Gospels as the real, ‘historical’ Jesus,” underlining “that this figure is much more logical and, historically speaking, much more intelligible than the reconstructions we have been presented with in the last decades” (Page xxii).
For Benedict XVI, one finds in the Scriptures the compelling elements to be able to assert that the historical personage, Jesus Christ, is also the Son of God who came to Earth to save humanity.
In page after page, he examines these one by one, guiding and challenging the reader — the believer but also the nonbeliever — by way of an enthralling intellectual adventure.
Grounding his core premise on the fact of the intimate unity between the Old and the New Testament, and drawing on the Christological hermeneutics that see in Jesus Christ the key to the entire Bible, Benedict XVI presents the Jesus of the Gospels as the “new Moses” who fulfills Israel’s ancient expectations (Page 1). This new Moses must lead the people of God to true and definitive freedom. He does so in a sequence of actions that, however, always allow God’s plan to be anticipated in its entirety.
The Baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan is “an acceptance of death for the sins of humanity, and the voice that calls out, ‘This is my beloved Son,’ over the baptismal waters is an anticipatory reference to the Resurrection” (Page 18). Jesus’ immersion in the waters of the River Jordan is a symbol of his death and of his descent into hell — a reality present, however, throughout his life.
To save humanity “He must recapitulate the whole of history from its beginnings” (Page 26), he must conquer the principal temptations that, in various forms, threaten men in all ages and, transforming them into obedience, reopen the road toward God (Chapter 2), toward the true Promised Land, which is the “Kingdom of God” (Page 44). This term, which can be interpreted in its Christological, mystical or even ecclesiastical dimension, ultimately means “the divine lordship, God’s dominion over the world and over history, [which] transcends the moment, indeed transcends and reaches beyond the whole of history. And yet it is at the same time something belonging absolutely to the present” (Page 57). Indeed, through Jesus’ presence and activity “God has here and now entered actively into history in a wholly new way.” In Jesus “God … draws near to us … rules in a divine way, without worldly power, rules through the love that reaches ‘to the end'” (Pages 60-61; John 13:1).
The theme of the “Kingdom of God” (Chapter 3), which pervades the whole of Jesus’ preaching, is developed in further depth in the reflection on the “Sermon on the Mount” (Chapter 4). In the Sermon Jesus clearly appears as the “new Moses” who brings the new Torah or, rather, returns to Moses’ Torah and, activating the intrinsic rhythms of its structure, fulfills it (Page 65).
The Sermon on the Mount, in which the beatitudes are the cardinal points of the law and, at one and the same time, a self-portrait of Jesus, demonstrates that this law is not just the result of a “face-to-face” talk with God but embodies the plenitude that comes from the intimate union of Jesus with the Father (Page 66). Jesus is the Son of God, the Word of God in person. “Jesus understands himself as the Torah” (Page 110). “This is the point that demands a decision […] and consequently this is the point that leads to the Cross and the Resurrection” (Page 63).
The exodus toward the true “Promised Land,” toward true freedom, requires the sequel of Christ. The believer has to enter the same communion of the Son with the Father.
Only in this way can Man “fulfill” himself, because his innermost nature is oriented toward the relationship with God. This means that a fundamental element of his life is talking to God and listening to God. Because of this, Benedict XVI dedicates an entire chapter to prayer, explaining the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus himself taught us (Chapter 5).
Man’s profound contact with God the Father through Jesus in the Holy Spirit gathers them together in the “we and us” of a new family that, via the choice of the Twelve Disciples, recalls the origins of Israel (the twelve Patriarchs) and, at the same time, opens the vision toward the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:9-14) — the ultimate destination of the whole story — of the new Exodus under the guidance of the “new Moses.”
With Jesus, the Twelve Disciples “have to pass from outward to inward communion with Jesus,” so as then to be able to testify to his oneness with the Father and “become Jesus’ envoys — ‘apostles,’ no less — who bring his message to the world” (Page 172). Albeit in its extremely variegated composition, the new family of Jesus, the Church of all ages, finds in him its unifying core and the will to live the universal character of his teaching (Chapter 6).
To make his message easier to understand and indeed to incorporate that message into daily living, Jesus uses the form of the parable. He comports the substance of what he intends to communicate — ultimately he is always talking about his mystery — attuned to the listener’s comprehension using the bridge of imagery grounded in realities very familiar and accessible to that listener. Alongside this human aspect, however, there is an exquisitely theological explanation of the parables’ sense, which Joseph Ratzinger highlights in an analysis of rare depth. He then comments more specifically on three parables, via which he illustrates the endless resources of Jesus’ message and its perennial actuality (Chapter 7).
The next chapter also centers round the images used by Jesus to explain his mystery: They are the great images of John’s Gospel. Before analyzing them, the Pope presents a very interesting summary of the various results of scientific research into who the apostle John was. With this, as also in his explanation of the images, he opens up new horizons for the reader that reveal Jesus with ever-increasing clarity as the “Word of God” (Page 317), who became man for our salvation as the “Son of God” (Page 304), coming to redirect humanity toward unity with the Father — the reality personified by Moses (Chapter 8).
This vision is further expanded in the last two chapters. “The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus […] interprets Peter’s confession and takes it deeper, while at the same time connecting it with the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection” (Pages 287-288). Both events — the transfiguration and the confession — are decisive moments for the earthly Jesus as they are for his disciples.
The true mission of the Messiah of God and the destiny of those who want to follow him are now definitively established. Both events become comprehensible to their full extent only if based on an organic view of the Old and New Testament. Jesus, the living Son of God, is the Messiah awaited by Israel who, through the scandal of the Cross, leads humanity into the “Kingdom of God” (Page 317) and to ultimate freedom (Chapter 9).
The Pope’s book ends with an in-depth analysis of the titles that, according to the Gospels, Jesus used for himself (Chapter 10). Once again it becomes evident that only through reading the Scriptures as a united whole is one able to reveal the meaning of the three terms “Son of Man,” “Son,” and “I Am.” This latter term is the mysterious name with which God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush. This name now allows it to be seen that Jesus is that same God. In all three titles “Jesus at once conceals and reveals the mystery of his person. […] All three of these terms demonstrate how deeply rooted he is in the Word of God, Israel’s Bible, the Old Testament. And yet all these terms receive their full meaning only in him — it is as if they had been waiting for him” (Page 354).
Together with the man of faith, who seeks to explain the divine mystery above all to himself; together with the extremely refined theologian, who ranges effortlessly from the results of modern doctrinal analyses to those of their ancient precursors, the book also reveals the pastor, who truly succeeds in his attempt “to help foster [in the reader] the growth of a living relationship” with Jesus Christ (Page xxiv), almost irresistibly drawing him into his own personal friendship with the Lord.
In this perspective the Pontiff is not afraid to denounce a world that, by excluding God and clinging only to visible and tangible realities, risks destroying itself in a self-centered quest for purely material well-being — becoming deaf to the real call to the human being to become, through the Son, a son of God, and thereby to reach true freedom in the “Promised Land” of the “Kingdom of God.” ….
Significance of Jesus as “the gardener”
“Adam was to “garden” the whole earth for the glory of His Father. But he failed. Created to make the dust fruitful, he himself became part of the dust. The Garden of Eden became the wilderness of this world. But do you also remember how John’s Gospel records what happened on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection? He was “the beginning [of the new creation], the firstborn from the dead.” But Mary Magdalene did not recognize Him; instead, she spoke to him, “supposing him to be the gardener”.”
Nick Batzig has written beautifully on this in his 2014 article, “Jesus, the True and Greater Gardener” at: https://www.placefortruth.org/blog/jesus-the-true-and-greater-gardener
The Scriptures tell us that the Son of God began His sufferings in a Garden and brought them to a close in a Garden. That is an absolutely amazing display of God’s wisdom. After all, Jesus is the second Adam undoing what Adam did and doing what Adam failed to do (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:47-49). He is the Heavenly Bridegroom, entering into His sufferings in a Garden for the redemption of His bride, the Church. He is the Heavenly Gardener, giving Himself to the cultivation of the souls of His people through His atoning sacrifice and continual intercession. When He hung on the cross, He spoke of Glory under the name of “Paradise”–an evident allusion to the paradise in which our first parents dwelt and the paradise from which they fell. He is the second Adam who, by the shedding of His blood, secured the New Creation. As we consider the double entendres of the fourth Gospel, we come to those specifically concerning the biblical theology of the second Adam in the Garden. Consider the theological significance of the following two Garden settings in which Christ carried out the work of redemption:
- Jesus began His sufferings in a Garden in order to show that He came to undo what Adam had done. In his soul-stirring book, Looking Unto Jesus, Isaac Ambrose explained the theological significance of the Garden motif in the Gospels–both with regard to the beginning of Christ’s sufferings in the Garden of Gethsemane and at the end of His sufferings in the Garden where His body was laid to rest in the tomb. Concerning the first of these symbolic gardens, Ambrose suggested:
“Jesus went forth with his disciples over the brook Kidron, where there was a garden (John 18:1)” many mysteries are included in this word, and I believe it is not without reason that our Savior goes into a garden…Because a garden was the place wherein we fell, and therefore Christ made choice of a garden to begin there the greatest work of our redemption: in the first garden was the beginning of all evils; and in this garden was the beginning of our restitution from all evils; in the first garden, the first Adam was overthrown by Satan, and in this garden the second Adam overcame, and Satan himself was by him overcome; in the first garden sin was contracted; and we were indebted by our sins to God, and in this garden sin was paid for by that great and precious price of the blood of God: in the first garden man surfeited by eating the forbidden fruit, and in this garden Christ sweat it out wonderfully, even by a bloody sweat; in the first garden, death first made its entrance into the world; and in this garden life enters to restore us from death to life again; in the first garden Adam’s liberty tosin brought himself and all of us into bondage; and, in this garden, Christ being bound and fettered, we are thereby freed and restored to liberty. I might thus descant in respect of every circumstance, but this is the sum, in a garden first began our sin, and in this garden first began the passion, that great work and merit of our redemption.1
Since “a garden was the place wherein we fell…therefore Christ made choice of a garden to begin there the greatest work of our redemption.” He is the second Adam. It is fitting, therefore, that His work of undoing all that Adam did should begin in a Garden. Charles Spurgeon drew out his same observation when he observed: “May we not conceive that as in a garden Adam’s self-indulgence ruined us, so in another garden the agonies of the second Adam should restore us. Gethsemane supplies the medicine for the ills which followed upon the forbidden fruit of Eden. No flowers which bloomed upon the banks of the four-fold river were ever so precious to our race as the bitter herbs which grew hard by the black and sullen stream of Kedron.”
- Jesus concluded His sufferings in a Garden to show that He accomplished all that Adam failed to accomplish. It is not only in a garden that Jesus began the work of redemption; it is in a Garden that Jesus finished the work of redemption. Our Lord Jesus was buried and raised in a Garden. When he came to expound the account of Mary Magdalene outside of the Garden-tomb, weeping and thinking that Christ was merely “the Gardener” on the day of His resurrection, Ambrose again noted:
As Adam in the state of grace and innocency, was placed in a garden, and the first office allotted to him, was to be a gardener; so Jesus Christ appeared first in a garden, and presents himself in a gardener’s likeness: and as that first gardener was the parent of sin, the ruin of’mankind, and the author of death; so is this gardener the ransom for our sin; the raiser of our ruins, and the restorer of our life. In some sense, then, and in a mystery, Christ was a gardener; but Mary’s mistake was in supposing him the gardener of that only place; and not the gardener of our souls.3
Spurgeon further unpacked the idea that the Scriptures mean for us to view Jesus as the Gardener of the souls of His people when we see Him appearing to Mary in the Garden where His body had been buried. In his sermon, “Supposing Him to be the Gardener,” he explained:
If we would be supported by a type, our Lord takes the name of “the Second Adam,” and the first Adam was a gardener. Moses tells us that the Lord God placed the man in the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. Man in his best estate was not to live in this world in a paradise of indolent luxury, but in a garden of recompensed toil. Behold, the church is Christ’s Eden, watered by the river of life, and so fertilized that all manner of fruits are brought forth unto God; and he, our second Adam, walks in this spiritual Eden to dress it and to keep it; and so by a type we see that we are right in “supposing him to be the gardener.” Thus also Solomon thought of him when he described the royal Bridegroom as going down with his spouse to the garden when the flowers appeared on the earth and the fig tree had put forth her green figs; he went out with his beloved for the reservation of the gardens, saying, “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.” Neither nature, nor Scripture, nor type, nor song forbids us to think of our adorable Lord Jesus as one that careth for the flowers and fruits of his church.4
Adam was called to guard and keep the Garden. This certainly included his need to protect his bride from the temptations of the evil one. When Jesus entered into His sufferings on the cross, He did so with His bride–the church–with Him there in the Garden. As Adam should have warned Eve to “watch and pray lest you enter into temptation,” so Jesus warns His bride–the Church to do that very thing. There is a striking parallel between the events of the two Gardens–Eden and Gethsemane.
There are also striking parallels between the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the tree from which Jesus is to drink the fruit of the cup place before Him. In the Garden of Eden, God told Adam that he could eat of every tree except one. In the Garden of Gethsemane, God the Father essentially told Jesus to eat from one tree and one tree only. “The cup” symbolized the fruit of Adam’s sin–the wrath of God. The wrath of God was the fruit that Jesus was to partake of as our Redeemer. When he presses through the soul struggles of Gethsemane and makes His way to the sufferings of Gothgotha, Jesus is showing that He is the second Adam who came conquering and to conquer–Satan, sin and death. Now, all those who trust in him are given freely to eat of the Tree of Life.
Sinclair Ferguson sums this all up for us when he writes:
Adam was to “garden” the whole earth for the glory of His Father. But he failed. Created to make the dust fruitful, he himself became part of the dust. The Garden of Eden became the wilderness of this world. But do you also remember how John’s Gospel records what happened on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection? He was “the beginning [of the new creation], the firstborn from the dead.” But Mary Magdalene did not recognize Him; instead, she spoke to him, “supposing him to be the gardener.” Well, who else would he be, at that time in the morning?
The Gardner? Yes, indeed. He is the Gardener. He is the second Man, the last Adam, who is now beginning to restore the Garden.
Later that day Jesus showed his disciples where the nails and the spear had drawn blood from his hands and side. The Serpent had indeed crushed his [heel]. But he had crushed the Serpent’s head! Now he was planning to turn the wilderness back into a garden. Soon he would send his disciples into the world with the good news of his victory. All authority on earth–lost by Adam–was now regained. The world must now be reclaimed by Jesus the conquerer.
In the closing scenes of the book of Revelation, John saw the new earth coming down from heaven. What did it look like? A garden in which the tree of life stands!5
Meditation on these truths ought to make our souls to sing. These truths should stir up within us greater love to the Christ who first loved us. They should make us long to go to the One who tends to and tills the soil of our souls. We are a garden to our God and Father, and Jesus in our heavenly Gardener who cultivates the sweet fruit of the Gospel in us.
- Isaac Ambrose Looking Unto Jesus(Pittsburgh: Luke Loomis & Co., 1832)pp. 337-338
- An excerpt from C.H. Spurgeon’s sermon, “The Agony in Gethsemane.”
- Ambrose Looking Unto Jesusp. 442
- An excerpt from Spurgeon’s sermon “Supposing Him to be the Gardener.”
- Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson, Name Above All Names(Crossway, 2013) p. 34.