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The Message of The Bible - Part Twelve
by Dave MillerIn our last lesson we were looking at the ten northern tribes of Israel and how God sent them prophets. We have two of those prophetic books in our Old Testament. But the people would not heed. The king would not listen. Therefore God brought the northern kingdom to a climatic end and led them off into Assyrian captivity.
The southern tribes came off somewhat better. The southern portion of Israel at this point in history was known as Judah. You can read about the history of this group of Godís people, the southern kingdom, throughout the rest of II Kings and the book of II Chronicles in particular. I and II Chronicles record the history of Godís people from the very beginning and then links into Judean history, the southern kingdom. The northern kingdom lasted just over two centuries before going into Assyrian captivity. The southern kingdom of Judah and Benjamin lasted nearly twice as long--nearly four centuries. They, too, had a string of nineteen or twenty kings. Almost all of those kings are said to be wicked men who failed to obey God. They did evil in the sight of the Lord. Many of them were idolatrous and pagan in their behavior. As you read through II Kings you find perhaps six of those kings being complimented for their goodness. Yet, I suspect that, at the most, four are given unqualified commendation--Josiah, for example, and Hezekiah.
All of the rest of those kings during the period of the Judean kingdom are said to have been wicked men. God sent a number of prophets to the southern kingdom. Among these prophets were Isaiah and Jeremiah. Joel was probably sent before this time period. Several of the others preached during the period of the southern kingdom. These would include Habakkuk and others. We mentioned earlier that the Assyrian empire was warned by God through His prophet Jonah. They listened, but a couple of hundred years later they were doomed to fall. Therefore, God sent the prophet Nahum who decried the Assyrian empire, pronounced judgment upon the capital city of Nineveh and described in graphic detail itís destruction.
The southern kingdom eventually came under the imposing power of the Babylonian empire. When the Assyrian empire fell, Babylon became strong and exerted its influence around the planet. Therefore, when God had His fill of the southern kingdom being disobedient to Him, He sent the Babylonians, under the reigning ruler Nebuchadnezzar, down into southern Palestine in the year 606 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar didnít meet too much resistance and he went easy on the population. He deported only some of the young Jewish nobles back to Babylon. This group included Daniel. We have the book of Daniel, which chronicles his life in Babylon under Babylonian rule. Daniel actually lived to experience the successor to Babylon, the Persian empire, in league with the Medes.
After that 606 B.C. invasion God allowed the nation to continue to stand. Yet they continued to be rebellious. They continued to resist Godís will. There were prophets like Jeremiah who warned the people, but there were false prophets like Hananiah, who said, "No, Godís a God of grace. Heís not going to allow this sort of external mistreatment to proceed for very long. Itíll be a very short time." Jeremiah said, "It will not be a short time. It will be a total of seventy years." When the people continued to resist, God sent the Babylonians a second time into southern Palestine in the year 597 B.C. This time Nebuchadnezzar put more teeth in his treatment of the people. He deported at least ten thousand of the population into Babylonian captivity and even plundered some of the contents of the great Temple. Before leaving southern Palestine he placed upon the throne a puppet king. He changed this kingís name to Zedekiah. Then he exited Palestine and went back to Babylon.
Once again the people continued to resist. They opposed God. The prophets continued to warn them, "Donít oppose God. You are getting what you deserve. This is God instigated, divinely originated. You must not resist." But the people continued to do so. So, just as their northern counterparts had suffered, so the southern kingdom suffered the final intolerance of God. Godís patience came to a close. In the years 587 to 586 B.C. God sent Nebuchadnezzar back down into southern Palestine for a third and final time to besiege the capital city of Jerusalem. Finally after months of besiegement the walls were breached and his army entered the city and began executing people. They completely leveled and destroyed the great Temple that Solomon had built for God. No one really knows to this day where the contents of the Most Holy Place, the Ark of the Covenant and all of those various objects that were part of Temple worship, were taken.
The king that was on the throne, Zedekiah, left himself an escape portal near the royal gardens. He slipped through that location and headed out across the plains of Jericho trying to escape the Babylonians. But they pursued him, overtook him, and then transported him into northern Palestine to the little village of Riblah where Nebuchadnezzar had set up his judgment seat. They brought him before King Nebuchadnezzar. Then they brought Zedekiahís two sons into his presence. Nebuchadnezzar gave orders for those two sons to be murdered right there in front of their father. I suppose thatís the last thing Zedekiah saw in his life. That image, that visual picture, was imprinted on his mind for the rest of his life. Right after that they took some metal prongs and gouged out his eyes, blinding him for life. They then put shackles on him and deported him into Babylonian captivity with the rest of the population of the southern kingdom.
What a tragic period of Bible history! Godís people so thoroughly rejected Him that He in turn rejected them. The prophets declared that this period of captivity for the southern kingdom would last seventy years. Therefore, while they were in Babylonian captivity they had prophets like Ezekiel warning them to straighten up and accept what had happened, which was due to their own fault, and to straighten up, repent and get back to God. Ezekiel had wonderful things to say. He had been deported in the second deportation into Babylonian captivity. Daniel was already there. Daniel mostly spent his life and prophetic labors among the nobility and royalty of Babylonian society, whereas Ezekiel spent his time more with the common man, and the regular people, especially among the Israelites that were in captivity.
This period of captivity lasted for a total of seventy years. As we approach the end of the Babylonian empire, the Persians became dominant politically and militarily. They were in league with the Medes. Therefore the Medo-Persian empire managed to develop enough military might that they were able to overthrow the Babylonian government. Thatís described in the book of Daniel. It really occurred in one night. The royalty was involved in a drunken feast and left themselves vulnerable. The opposing military marched right into the city under the river gates. They diverted the river into another location where they could just slip right in under the walls of the Babylonian defenses. Consequently that was the end, for all practical purposes, of the Babylonian empire.
Under successive Persian kings God enabled them to send forth decrees that allowed conquered peoples to return to their ancestral homelands and rebuild their ancient worship sites and their culture and their civilization. There were three successive waves of Jewish exiles from the southern kingdom of Judah that took advantage of those decrees. They returned to Palestine under the great leadership of men like Ezra, Nehemiah and Zerubbabel. These individuals led groups back to Palestine. They rebuilt Jerusalemís defenses, set the city gates back into place, and eventually rebuilt the Temple. The prophet Haggai, whose book we have in the Old Testament, urged the people after they had built their own homes, to get busy and finish Godís house, the Temple. They finally succeeded in doing that. The older folks that were there on that occasion wept when they saw this Temple, because it did not attain the former glory of the Temple that Solomon had built which the Babylonians had destroyed.
We come to the close of this period of history with prophets like Zechariah and Zephaniah. During the Persian period the book of Esther took place. Esther was in Persia and ascended to the Queenship. The book of Esther is a valuable book during this time period that spotlights the providence of God--His outworking to bring into being His ultimate plan of salvation which was to bring Jesus into the world.
The final prophet in the Old Testament was Malachi, the last book in our Old Testaments. Malachi presented a series of admonitions to the people. This was probably thirty years or so after the people were allowed to return to their homeland. Only a minority of Jews returned from Babylonian/Persian captivity to go back to Palestine. Most of the population of Judah, the southern kingdom, was very content to stay in Babylon where they had built homes and had jobs. Very few people were really interested in going back to Palestine, reinstating the Mosaic religion and getting their lives straightened out and back in harmony with the will of God.
Malachi wrote a few years after that because they had already become lax in their worship. They were being neglectful and he rebuked them for that. Then he brought his book and the Old Testament to a close. In the last two verses of the book of Malachi chapter four he said, "Despite all of this, these negative years that have taken place, the God of heaven will bring back Elijah." Elijah was a great prophet of God in the latter chapters of I Kings. Malachi said, "Someday Elijah is going to come back." He said, "The day that he comes back will be the great and dreadful day of the Lord. When Elijah returns he will turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children and vice versa." With that prophesy Malachi laid down the pen of inspiration. God had nothing more to say to the human race for five centuries--five hundred years. Thatís all God had to say to human beings.
Then suddenly bursting onto the scenes of time, when we turn to the book of Matthew in the New Testament, we see the fulfillment of the last two verses of the Old Testament. We see Elijah returning. The Jews of that day thought that Elijah would literally be reincarnated and come back in person. But Jesus said in Luke 1:17 that that was a prophesy referring to John the Baptizer, John the Immerser. He came in Matthew 3:2, six months before Jesus came onto the scene publicly. He began preaching and announcing the coming of the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world, John chapter 1. In Matthew 3:2 his sermon was simple. He was speaking to Jews in and around Jerusalem and Judea. He said "Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand."
As we move into the New Testament, we are going to see the fulfillment and the fruition of all of those years of God working and weaving His will in the scheme of redemption. The central feature in these early books of the New Testament is the advent of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was born into this world from a woman who had never had sexual relations with a man. We call that the virgin birth. We really ought to call it the virgin conception. Mary had implanted within her by the Holy Spirit seed that would cause her to give birth to Jesus Christ in fleshly form. He was totally man, one-hundred percent man, but totally God, one-hundred percent deity. The Bible clearly affirms that.
As he grew to the age of thirty, six months before he began functioning in a public way, his predecessor or forerunner, John the Baptizer, stepped forward and began preparing the Jewish population in and around Jerusalem for the coming of the Messiah. He preached a very powerful message, urging them to repent, to get their lives right. He administered a water baptism that differs from the water baptism that was enjoined by Jesus after His death, burial and resurrection. We call that New Testament baptism. This was a predecessor to that, which was only administered to Jews. They had to repent and then they would be immersed. That immersion was the point at which they would be forgiven of their sins, according to Mark 1:5. It was a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
Notice that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are four different books all describing the same basic subject matter. Why would God give us four separate inspired accounts of the life of Christ? First of all, we need to understand theyíre not biographies. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are not intended to be biographies because Mark and John say nothing of Jesusí life until age thirty. Matthew and Luke record the birth of Christ. Luke records one incident at the age of twelve for Jesus. Then they have nothing more to say about the first thirty years of Christís life. So these books are clearly not biographies.
Matthew, who was a Jewish tax collector, was inspired by God to write the book of Matthew to a Jewish audience. He had one central theme or feature throughout that book. He was trying to represent to a Jewish audience the identity of Jesus Christ as the King of the Jews. Therefore you find throughout the book of Matthew references to Jesusí kingly nature. You see the word kingdom used repeatedly. The Old Testament prophets, like Isaiah 2:1-4 and Micah 4, predicted the coming of the Kingdom. Matthew was trying to convince the Jewish audience of his day that Jesus Christ fit those prophesies, that He was in fact the King that was to come in order to establish His kingdom.
Notice in Matthew 16:18, Jesus said, "Upon this rock..." What rock? The rock that Peter had just confessed, that Jesus is the Christ. The person of Christ, the deity of Christ was the rock, the foundation upon which Jesus said, "I will build my church and the gates of hades will not prevail against it." That is, when I go into the hadean realm, when I die, Iíll come back out and set up My church. Then He said in Matthew 16:19, "Iíll give to you the keys of the kingdom." Jesus clearly announced the kingdom. In fact, in Matthew 3:2 thatís what John the Baptizer preached: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand." Jesus preached the same thing in Matthew 4:17, "Repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand." As you read through the twenty-eight chapters of the book of Matthew you are struck with the fact that Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of Jewish prophesy concerning a coming kingdom with a coming King--the kingship of Christ.
We move into the book of Mark which only has sixteen chapters. Mark is clearly addressing himself not to a Jewish audience but to a Roman audience. In fact, he explained a lot of Jewish customs because he knew a Roman reader would not understand them. Mark stressed a central concept throughout this book as well. Itís stated in chapter 10 verse 45. Hereís the thematic statement of the book of Mark and it is that Jesus Christ came not to be served but to serve. Mark presents Jesus to us as a servant more than any other writer of the New Testament. Romans were thought of for their power. They gloried in their military might. They wanted to force people to do things their way. Mark said the Son of God came to serve other people, to minister to others. Thereís power. Thatís how true power is wielded.
We move into the book of Luke, the only Gentile, non-Jewish writer of the New Testament. Luke was a physician by trade, a medical doctor. He wrote his twenty-four chapter treatise in order to accentuate to a non-Jewish audience the humanity of Christ. More than any other writer of the New Testament he stressed Jesus as a human being, as a person--how Jesus could be touched by the feelings of our infirmities as He operated among human beings.
We then move into the book of John, another wonderful book of twenty-one chapters. John wrote more to an eclectic audience, and he tells us his theme in John 20:30, 31. He listed throughout this book signs. The word "sign" is a key term in the book that refers to miraculous activities that Jesus performed in order to authenticate His identity. The book of John is therefore written to stress the deity of Christ, to prove that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. He does it in marvelous fashion by listing seven signs throughout that book.
Notice then, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, all essentially accomplish a central purpose. They tell us the motivation for becoming Christians and living the Christian life. We could summarize it in John 3:16, "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Why should you become a Christian? Because God sent His Son, and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John recorded that for us.
We move into the book of Acts, which has twenty-eight chapters. The theme is stated in the very first chapter. The gospel is being spread throughout the Roman world. It begins in chapter two with the establishment of the church of Christ on earth for the first time in human history. The plan of salvation is articulated in verse 38 of chapter 2 by Peter. As you read through those twenty-eight chapters, you see that every one who becomes a Christian becomes a Christian in the same way. They hear the word of God. They believe in Christ and His word. They repent of their sins. They confess Christ with their mouth. They are immersed in water in order for their sins to be washed away. For example, in Acts 22:16 Ananias said to Paul, "Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." Thatís how to call on the name of the Lord. The book of Acts tells us how to become a Christian.
We move into the New Testament epistles: Romans, I and II Corinthians and so forth, right on down to the book of Jude. All of these epistles do the same thing. They tell Christians how to live the Christian life.
That brings us to the book of Revelation which brings to a close the entire Bible and the New Testament. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell us why we should become a Christian. Acts tells us how to become a Christian. Romans through Jude tells us how to live as a Christian. Revelation answers the question, "How do I die as a Christian?" Revelation 2:10, "Be faithful even if it means that they kill you. Be faithful unto death."
Revelation chapter 22 brings the entire New Testament to a close and really all of the Bible by depicting for us the eternal realm where the redeemed will be with God forever. Itís described in highly apocalyptic, symbolic language. But it is garden language, where the tree of life is. When we began our "Message Of The Bible", in Genesis chapter 2 human beings were in the garden of Eden. They were taken out of the garden, never permitted to return and thus cut off from the tree of life. With our reinstatement with God in eternity (Revelation 22: 1-5) weíll be in the presence of God with the tree of life, there reinstated to life with God. Isnít that a wonderful portrait? The book closes offering an invitation, "The Spirit and the Bride say come. Who ever wishes to drink of the water of life may do so freely."
Thatís The Message Of The Bible, from beginning to end. A lot of people have lived before us. Most people have chosen to disobey God. Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, "Few there be that find the right way." But you and I can find the right way if we choose to exercise our will to comply with the will of the God of the universe. We can do it!This item originally appeared in The Truth In Love Television Program
The Message of The Bible - Part One
The Message of The Bible - Part Two
The Message of The Bible - Part Three
The Message of The Bible - Part Four
The Message of The Bible - Part Five
The Message of The Bible - Part Six
The Message of The Bible - Part Seven
The Message of The Bible - Part Eight
The Message of The Bible - Part Nine
The Message of The Bible - Part Ten
The Message of The Bible - Part Eleven
The Message of The Bible - Part Twelve