Since I have spent many of the previous chapters dealing with skeptical arguments, let me put this mode of writing aside for a short while, and permit me now to describe what I perceive to be God’s overall plan for humans, while also addressing some of the issues that arise from the plan. Of course, you are free to believe or disbelieve whatever you want. What follows is simply my take on God’s plan as I see it.
In the beginning, God created humans in his image, which meant we were unique from the rest of his flesh and blood creation. We have the capacity for reason, reflection and deep thought. We have a conscience and an inherent sense of justice. We can cultivate values that go beyond immediate selfish concerns, and we have advanced language skills that allow us to share and accumulate knowledge. We care about things above and beyond survival and reproduction. We are creators, designers and artists, always looking for meaning.
The purpose of human life was simple enough. It was to enjoy life, which meant taking delight in their God-given abilities, such as their capacity to communicate and commune both with God and their fellow creatures, to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and to share life with their offspring.
However, humans lacked wisdom. They didn’t know right from wrong. They didn’t know what good and bad was, except in a very simplistic way. All they had to go on was their own feelings, and a command given to them by an outside source. Without knowing any better, they followed what felt and sounded good at the time, and experienced what many Christians call “The Fall.”
What this meant in practical terms was, God let humans go their own way for a time, so they could gain the knowledge and wisdom they desired. But this meant experiencing both the good and the bad for themselves.
In a sense, the Fall explains three of the Four Big Questions: Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Why is there suffering? What does the future hold?
We are here because God created humans in his image, in his desire to share life with other intelligent creatures.
The purpose of life in general is to live. This is, of course, a tautology, but I think it became true after the Fall. Since God allowed humans to go their own way, I don’t think he set the life course for people in general. Instead, it was up to each person to find their own purpose, especially if they chose to live without God. Life really did become more about survival and reproduction, which is not what God had intended, but was the path humans chose for themselves in their quest to know good and bad.
There is suffering because humans in general decided to go their own way, separate from God. Life became harder because they wanted to know both good and bad. This would also have an impact on the environment. Independent humans can’t expect God to maintain a perfect world for them, because then they would be dependent on God. We can’t demand independence from God, and yet expect him to maintain a perfect environment for us.
I think the Fall also indirectly answers the fourth question about what the future holds, because this alienation from God wasn’t meant to be a permanent state of affairs.
Humans in general had to go through both good and bad times, in order to acquire knowledge of good and bad. God could have kept them in a permanent paradise, but then how would they learn bad? How would they know right from wrong? Even if God taught them those things directly, humans would have no way of knowing whether God’s way was actually right or not. Therefore, his initial method of teaching them was to allow them to learn for themselves. But once this has been achieved in full, God can permanently remove the causes of suffering.
This would explain the very first prophecy in the Bible. Speaking to the serpent, God said: “I will put animosity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”1 This seems a little excessive if God was speaking merely to a serpent. It makes much more sense if God was indicating a long-range struggle between the forces of good and bad, with good ultimately triumphing over the bad.
However, since humans had no direct guidance from God in earlier times, selfishness and lawlessness gradually consumed intelligent creatures to the point where the Earth itself was eventually ruined. This resulted in God bringing about a global Flood.
Did this mean God’s creation was faulty? Not at all. It shows that unrestrained free will and selfishness eventually consumes itself, because the Earth was already ruined by living things even before God pronounced a Flood. The purpose of the Flood was to preserve alive what was good in humans.
Noah and his family brought a new beginning, a new era, and what could be described as a peace treaty between God and all living things, in which God promised never to bring about a Flood again. He still allowed humans to go their own way for the most part, but this time he set some minimum standards. For example, human life was to be treated as sacred, and murder would be avenged.
Furthermore, God would intervene to a limited extent, to restrain evil and as a warning example to those doing evil. The destruction of Sodom for the crime of gang rape, which involved all of the men of the city, and the Canaanites for their practice of child sacrifice, are two examples. This does not make God a hypocrite. Just as a human judge can sentence someone to death for murder, God was wearing his judicial hat in these matters.
However, I think God’s aim was also to give humans better alternatives, so they could choose good over bad more easily. This would take time, and it would involve a steep learning curve for humans. To achieve this, God needed to plant a seed, but it would take time to grow and bear fruit.
The next stage of the divine plan was to create a nation that would belong to YHWH, and that would be distinct from all other nations. God chose Abraham for this purpose, whose offspring would inherit many blessings, and all the nations would bless themselves through his offspring.
His son Isaac inherited those promises, and so did Isaac’s son Jacob, who was renamed Israel. As we have already seen, part of Jacob’s life served as an extended metaphor for DNA and various processes involved in sustaining life on Earth.
Jacob’s twelve sons became the twelve tribes of Israel. YHWH maneuvered events so Jacob’s offspring would move to Egypt; and a few hundred years later, after they had grown and multiplied, YHWH brought them out of Egypt with signs and wonders. Under the leadership of Moses they were brought back to the Promised Land, the land of the Canaanites.
The nation of Israel was given a distinctive law covenant that set them apart as a nation, and made them holy to God, but they often failed to live up to it. Again, we might ask, does this make God’s creation faulty?
Not at all. Israel’s struggle to obey God’s law highlights the drawback with law in general, whether human or divine. For example, most humans probably agree, at least in principle, with the divine injunction not to commit adultery, which is one of the Ten Commandments. When standing before their future partner and saying their vows, they have every intention of being faithful.
It’s also easy to stay faithful when we are flush with the hormones involved in being and falling in love. But love isn’t simply about hormones or sex. These things can enhance the feeling of love, but they don’t define love.
We speak of true love as coming, metaphorically, from the heart. We know it as a sense of desire, of passion, of devotion, of consideration, of empathy, of self-sacrifice. Love cannot be compelled or commanded. It is a product of free will.
Yet paradoxically, Moses told the nation of Israel to love God. He said: “Hear, O Israel: YHWH our God is one YHWH. And you are to love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your being. And these words which I am teaching you today shall be on your heart.”2
The history of Israel, as recorded in the Bible, demonstrates that law does not create love. A person can love law, just as a person can love another person, object or thing, but law cannot compel someone to love God or anybody else.
Moses could tell Israel to love God, but he couldn’t compel them to do so, and they often forgot God many times. This is why, though the prophets, Israel was often compared to an adulterous wife.
Maybe part of Israel’s problem was that they couldn’t really get close to God at a personal level. In the wilderness, God’s presence was represented by a pillar of cloud and fire. In the Temple in Jerusalem it was a cloud of glory, but it was confined to the inner compartment called the Most Holy, which only the High Priest was allowed to enter once a year.
This emphasized the holiness of God, but also made it hard for people to relate to him, and thus to love him. Closeness fuels love, and so there was both a literal and a metaphorical curtain of separation between the people and their God.
I think this was deliberate, to make a clear distinction between this and the next stage of God’s plan, which would involve much greater intimacy with God. In the next stage, God would send his Son to literally turn up on their doorstep, and this would be a test for the nation.
Now, if an inspector is due to check some aspect of your business, and tells you the exact time and manner in which he will come, you will make things perfect for the time of inspection, even though things may have fallen short at other times.
This is why God didn’t tell them exactly how or when he would inspect his people. He did, however, give them plenty of clues. God’s inspector would be a prophet like Moses. But in what way? This is a riddle God left unanswered for a long time.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God made Israel several promises. He promised to do something new for them. He promised to clear up the way before him, and to reveal his own glory to them. He promised good news for Jerusalem.3
He promised them a son who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. This is an unusual description if he was to be merely an ordinary man. He would also sit on David’s throne forever. How could any ordinary man do this?4
God promised them a servant who would bring forth judgment “according to truth,” and “the islands will wait for his law.”5 This one would be given “for a covenant of the people, for a light of Gentiles” and also be YHWH’s “salvation to the end of the earth.”6
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promised Israel a “new covenant,” different from the one he made with them when they came out of Egypt. God himself would write it on their hearts. But he didn’t tell them directly how this new covenant would come into being.7
When they grew jaded, the people of Israel asked God, “Where is the God of judgment?” God responded by saying, through the prophet Malachi: “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he prepares the way before me; and suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to his Temple, and the messenger of the covenant in whom you take delight. Look! He is coming, says YHWH of hosts. But who will endure the day of his coming?”8
The Jewish man Yeshua, whom we know as Jesus Christ, was the fulfillment of those promises. He was “the Lord” and “the messenger of the covenant.” He was their inspector, to see if the nation of Israel was fit for purpose.
He was the messenger of God’s covenant with Abraham, because through Jesus’ blood all the nations can bless themselves. He was the messenger of the Law covenant, because he showed the nation of Israel how to write it upon their hearts. They claimed to delight in it, yet failed to live up to it. It was etched in their minds, but not in their hearts as Moses had told them to do.
In particular, Jesus was also messenger of a new covenant, one that is based on love and written in hearts. By his death he was literally given “for a covenant of the people,” because his blood initiated this new covenant between God and all people who choose to accept it, both Jews and non-Jews.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God calls this one “my servant Israel, in whom I will show my splendor.”9 Jacob was one man, God’s servant, when God renamed him Israel, and he became the human founder of the nation of Israel. Jesus Christ was also one man, God’s servant, and he became the founder of the Christian faith, named after Christ, which means “anointed one.”
This is why the gospel writer Matthew applied the following scripture to Jesus: “When Israel was a boy, I loved him; and out of Egypt I called my son.”10 Jesus was the personification of Israel, and Israel was the personification of God’s son. This is also why Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism. He was living out what Israel went through after they came through the Red Sea; except they had to spend 40 years in the wilderness because they didn’t listen to God, a year for every day they had spied out the land of Canaan.
Now, the heart of Jesus’ law is actually very simple: love God, and love your neighbor. This is what makes it a “new” covenant in contrast with the old. The new one is simple, and based on love.
But people can’t even begin to love God unless they first know him. This was part of Jesus’ purpose, so that people could truly come to know God. This is why Jesus said: “The one who has seen me has seen the Father.”11 In other words, if you really want to know God, know Jesus, because he reflects the Father.
Fortunately for us as humans, the bar for salvation to life was fairly low. Jesus said: “Most truly I say to you, that the one hearing my word and believing the one who sent me has everlasting life, and is not coming into judgment but has stepped out of death into life.”12 The words here translated as “most truly” are literally the words “amen, amen.” Jesus was uttering a profound and sacred truth. When a person believes in Christ, they are no longer alienated from God but become part of his family again, and have “stepped out of death into life.”
At the same time, Jesus raised the bar for us all. He taught people to forgive others, turn the other cheek, stop judging, love their enemies, and be perfect. These are pretty high standards, and I would say they even go against our own human inclinations in some instances. But I think this is also the point. When we strive to meet these standards, even when we inevitably fail, they make us aware that our inclinations are not those of perfect people but of imperfect, fallen ones. And besides, if Jesus really was the Son of God, what standard could we expect him to set, other than a perfect one?
For those who heard Jesus, the bar was set even higher. They were to give up their possessions, and God would give them what they needed. Jesus said to them: “Fear not, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom. Sell your belongings and give gifts to the poor. Make yourselves purses that do not wear out, a treasure in the heavens that never fails, where no thief gets near and no moth decays. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”13
They were to inherit in the coming age much more than they had given up in this one. Also, by setting the bar high for them, he was also ensuring they would be similar to him, and more spiritually than materially minded. Certainly it seems that the early disciples took these words to heart, because in the account in Acts, we learn that “all the believers were in the same place and they had all things in common. And they sold their possessions and properties and divided them to all, according to what each person needed.”14
It is obvious that many Christians today fall short of the high standards Jesus set. The truth is, all of us, believers or not, are works in progress. When we put faith in Jesus, we step over from death to life from God’s point of view, and this faith based on knowledge allows our hearts to become more inclined towards good rather than bad, even if perfection takes time, often a long time. This is part of the growth process, just as a seed doesn’t become a beautiful flower or a mighty tree overnight.
Now, many of Jesus’ contemporaries knew God in an academic sense. The Jewish leaders were well versed in scripture. They knew God with their mind, but not with their heart. For this reason, Jesus became a stumbling block to the nation of Israel. Isaiah wrote: “He will become a sanctuary; but a stone of striking and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel.”15 As a result, he was “despised in soul” and became “the one whom the nation abhorred.”16
It was necessary for Jesus to be put to death, to fulfill the prophecy of the Suffering Servant, which said: “From restraint and judgment he was taken, and who will think about his generation? For he was severed from the land of the living.” And again, “he poured out his soul even to death, and was counted with the transgressors, and carried the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”17
The book of Zechariah even describes the manner of his death. The people would “look to me whom they pierced, and they will wail over him as the wailing for the only son.”18
For the world as a whole, the meaning and purpose of Jesus Christ is summed up by the apostle John: “For God so loves the world that he gives his only-begotten Son, that everyone believing in him will not perish, but can have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world that he should judge the world, but that he may save the world through him.”19
However, for the nation of Israel, Jesus was also a test, to inspect them and reveal what was in their heart. YHWH had asked through the prophet Malachi, “who will endure the day of his coming? And who will stand when he appears? For he is as the fire of a refiner, and as the soap of a cleaner.” However, God said he would draw out “a treasured possession” from his own people, and would “spare them, as when a man spares his own son who serves him.”20
In Zechariah, we have a similar theme. Shortly after they “look to me whom they pierced,” the author wrote, “in all the land, says YHWH, two parts in it will be cut off and expire, and the third part will remain in it. And I will bring the third part through the fire, and refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested.”21
The book of Daniel also contains a similar prophecy: “An anointed one will be cut off, and nothing for him. And the city and the sanctuary will be destroyed by the people of a prince to come, and end in flooding; and until the end, war and desolations have been decided.”22
Each of these prophecies have been examined in more detail in “Letter To The Jews.”23 The three prophecies are essentially the same, but contain different details. The first says that God’s servant would be the Lord and messenger of the covenant. The second says he would be pierced, but people would look to him. The third says he would be an “anointed one,” which is what “Christ” means, who would be “cut off.” Each of them foretold destruction on the land afterwards.
These prophecies were fulfilled in the Roman war against Judea, which led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD, coming upon the same generation in which Jesus lived and died.
However, God also gave the people plenty of warning through his ancient prophets, and also through Jesus Christ and his disciples, about how to escape those events. The purpose of the destruction was to clear out the wicked, but it also served to reinforce the identity of God’s Son.
In the long interval before Israel would be restored again, Jesus Christ would become YHWH’s “salvation to the end of the earth.” Jesus himself said to his disciples: “You will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”24 And speaking to the people of his day, he said: “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you being cast out.”25
The stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are told in Jewish scriptures, but to the rest of the world they have also become part of the Christian heritage in what is often referred to as the “Old Testament.”
Jesus continued: “And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the Kingdom of God. And look! they are the last who will be first, and they are the first who will be last.”26
Here, Jesus was alluding to the words of Isaiah. After describing God’s servant who would become YHWH’s “salvation to the end of the earth,” Isaiah describes the followers of this servant: “On the roads they will graze, and in all the hills their pastures. They will not go hungry, and they will not thirst, and scorching wind and sun will not strike them. For the one showing compassion to them will lead them, and guide them to springs of water. And I will make all my mountains into a road, and my highways will be raised up. Look! These will come from far away, and look! These from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Sinim.”27
These would become a great crowd of people from all nations, tribes and languages, led by God’s servant Jesus Christ.28 The nation of Israel was given the first opportunity to become part of the Kingdom of God, and while many accepted Jesus, the nation as a whole rejected him. He became “the one whom the nation abhorred.” And so the first became last. The nation of Israel went to the back of the queue as it were, while the Gentiles who were last in the queue became first.
However, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD did not mean God had forgotten or completely abandoned Israel. After describing the great crowd of people from the nations, the prophet Isaiah goes on to describe the city of Jerusalem as Zion lying desolate. Pictured as a woman, the prophet Isaiah has her say, “YHWH has abandoned me, and my lord has forgotten me.” But YHWH speaks kindly to her: “Can a woman forget her nursing baby, that she should not have compassion for the son of her womb? Even they may forget, but I will not forget you.”29
When Zion sees her sons returning to her, she asks in surprise: “Who has fathered these for me, since I am bereaved of children and am barren, exiled and taken away? Who has raised these? Look! I was left all alone. Where did these come from?”30
God replies to her: “Look! I will lift up my hand to the Gentiles, and raise my banner to the people; and they will bring your sons in their arms, and carry your daughters upon their shoulders. Kings will become your foster fathers, and their princesses will be your wet nurses.”31
As I have talked about elsewhere, even as far back as in Moses’ day God had promised to restore the nation of Israel once they returned to him. “If you are dispersed to the end of the heavens, from there YHWH your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. YHWH your God will bring you into the land your fathers inherited, and you will inherit it.”32
The manner of Israel’s restoration was also foretold: “Will a land be brought to birth in one day, or a nation be born in one moment of time? For as soon as Zion went into labor, she gave birth to her sons.”33
The modern nation of Israel came into existence on May 14, 1948 in literally one day and one moment of time. The indication here is that this was ultimately YHWH’s doing, and another stage of God’s plan.
But what was the point of restoring Israel again, especially after such a long time? First of all, it was to fulfill the promises YHWH had made to their ancestors, to bring them back. Unlike many humans, God keeps his promises!
Second, it serves as an indicator of time. Jesus said, in reference to the things that would come upon his generation: “For these are days of vengeance, for all the things written to be fulfilled. But woe to the pregnant ones and to the suckling ones in those days, for there will be great distress upon the land, and indignation on this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled by the nations, until the times of the nations are fulfilled.”34
The trampling of Jerusalem by the nations would not continue forever, but would last “until the times of the nations are fulfilled.” By using the word “trampled,” Jesus was here referring to the prophet Daniel, who saw a vision that began with Alexander the Great defeating the Persians, and then the holy place being trampled for 2,300 days.35 If we measure the time from when Alexander crossed the Hellespont to defeat the Persians in 334BC, to the time when Jerusalem was restored to Israel in 1967AD, there are 2,300 years.
The prophet Hosea also indicated that the restoration of Israel would mark a special time. He wrote: “For many days the sons of Israel will dwell without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without a monument, and without a sacred vest and household idols. Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek YHWH their God, and David their king, and they will be in awe of YHWH and his goodness in the last days.”36
The restoration of Israel indicated a period called “the last days.” A little later, the same prophet has the people of Israel speaking to one another: “Come, and let us return to YHWH, for he has torn to pieces, but he will heal us. He struck us, but he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us. On the third day he will raise us up, and we will live before him.”37
After some 2,000 years the nation of Israel was restored. But why do these prophecies talk about days, if they supposedly mean years or an even longer period of time, such as a thousand years?
I suppose the best answer is that God wanted to conceal the actual length of time. After all, two thousand years is a very long time from a human perspective, and human patience expires much faster than this. However, it also highlights that God’s perspective is very different from ours. To him, these lengths of time are like just a few days. As Moses wrote regarding God: “For a thousand years in your eyes are as yesterday when it has passed, and a watch in the night.”38
The third reason to restore Israel was to teach them a subtle point about the nature of their messiah. Many of their teachers say the nation of Israel itself is the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah. But in that case, the nation of Israel died, and disappeared for almost two thousand years, only to suddenly return again in the last days. In the ultimate irony, the nation of Israel set the pattern for what the Suffering Servant would actually do. The return of Israel is a pattern for Jesus’ death and resurrection, and also for the return of Christ.
The fourth reason God restored Israel was so he could demonstrate his own power, although not necessarily using that nation’s own strength, to prevent them from boasting in their own power.
The prophet Ezekiel foretold an invasion of a restored Israel in “the final part of the days.” Speaking of a mysterious entity called “Gog of the land of Magog,” the prophet Ezekiel writes:
“After many days you will be roused. In the final part of the years you will come into the land restored from the sword, gathered out of many peoples onto the mountains of Israel, which had been constantly deserted; and she is brought forth from the peoples, and they all dwell in security.”39
YHWH continues: “You will come upon my people Israel, like the cloud covering the land. It will happen in the final part of the days. And I will bring you upon my land so that the nations will know me, when I sanctify myself by you before their eyes, O Gog.”40
How does God make himself known? “In my jealousy, in the fire of my fury, if I do not speak on that day, there will be a great earthquake on the ground of Israel. And the fishes of the sea, and the flying creatures of the heavens, and the wild beasts of the field, and every creature that moves on the ground, and every human who is on the surface of the ground, will quake before me; and the mountains will be thrown down, and the cliffs will fall, and every wall will fall to the earth.” And then, “they will know that I am YHWH.”41
This, I hope, will provide sufficient proof for skeptics and atheists about the existence of God. But apart from demonstrating his existence, this astonishing and hopefully unrepeatable event serves another purpose, which is to make both Israel and the nations aware of why Israel once again exists as a nation.
YHWH says: “And the house of Israel will know that I, YHWH, am their God from that day and beyond. And the Gentiles will know that the house of Israel went into exile for their iniquity, because they were unfaithful to me. Therefore I concealed my face from them, and I gave them into the hand of their enemies, and all of them fell by the sword. According to their uncleanness and according to their transgressions I did to them, and I concealed my face from them.”42
This is why the nation of Israel can’t be the Suffering Servant talked about by the prophet Isaiah, for that servant is righteous both before and after his death, and suffers because he is righteous; but the nation of Israel went into exile for its own iniquity and unfaithfulness, as YHWH says here.
Now, Christians say that Jesus Christ is the King of Israel, but not only of Israel, but also the world. He is also the Son of God. He was raised from the dead and lifted up to heaven, and will return in what Christians call the “second coming,” to become king over the Earth, presumably in a more literal sense. This is the grand climax to God’s plan.
But why do it this way? Why not just get everything done in the first coming? Two comings, with a two thousand year gap in-between, might seem a somewhat convoluted way of doing things. Even if Jesus had to die and be resurrected, why not just have him become king and conquer his enemies shortly afterwards?
This is one of the main reasons why the nation of Israel in general rejected Jesus the first time round. He didn’t do the things that kings are supposed to do. Kings are supposed to conquer their enemies and reign in glory, not be humiliated and die.
However, an explanation can be found in Israel’s own scriptures, although it is not explicit. God often uses patterns and parallels as a way of teaching, rather than direct prophecies.
Some of the key figures in the Bible are actually patterns for Christ. For example, the story of Joseph the son of Israel is also, in many ways, the story of Christ. Joseph was Israel’s beloved son. His father loved him more than any of his other sons, and made him a distinctive robe, which some have interpreted as a coat of many colors. Either way, his distinctive clothing would have made him stand out. Joseph also had dreams, indicating he would be ruler over his brothers, and even over his own father and mother.43
For these reasons, his brothers despised him, threw him into a pit and sold him into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. They told their father Israel he was dead, showing him Joseph’s garment dipped in blood. This corresponds to the first coming of Christ. From Israel’s point of view, Jesus was just a false prophet or dreamer who died, betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, with his disciples making much of his linen cloths.
However, YHWH was with Joseph, and raised him up to become Lord over Egypt, second only to Pharaoh. Later, during a seven year famine across the Earth, people came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, and even his brothers came down, but they didn’t recognize him, even though he recognized them.
In the second year of the famine, after testing them further, he revealed himself to them, and they were utterly astonished, unable to speak. Here was their brother, whom they had despised and sold for twenty pieces of silver, and whom Israel presumed to be dead, actually alive and Lord over the Gentiles. But Joseph loved them and wept over them, and told them not to be upset or angry with themselves over what they had done to him, because it was actually God who had sent him before them, to preserve and deliver Israel.
Joseph’s story was a pattern for how Israel’s messiah would also be despised and rejected at first, but would later return to them in glory in their hour of need; and not only Israel’s need, but also that of the whole world, because the seven years of famine fell upon the whole Earth. Joseph revealing himself to Israel is a parallel for the second coming of Christ.
Even King David, the first righteous king of Israel, foreshadowed their messiah; for David was anointed as ruler by the prophet Samuel, and then for many years David was despised by Israel while Saul remained its ruler. David wrote many psalms, but it’s clear he felt despised, and even alluded to death many times.
For example, he wrote: “My strength is dried up like a piece of pottery, and my tongue sticks to my palate; and you lay me in the dust of death.”44 And again: “I can count all my bones, while they look and stare at me. They divide up my garments among them, and they cast lots over my clothing.”45
And again: “But I am a worm, and not a man; a reproach of men and despised by people. All those seeing me mock me. They sneer, they shake their heads: ‘He trusted in YHWH, let him rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.’”46 Also: “I have become a reproach to them. When they look upon me, they shake their heads.”47 And yet this was God’s anointed one, and a forerunner of the messiah!
Christians quote verses like these, because they also describe the circumstances of Jesus’ death. And while this is true, the more important point here is that King David’s life was also a parallel to that of Christ.
When David was first anointed as king by God’s prophet, he then became despised by the nation of Israel and its ruler Saul, and became as good as dead. This corresponds to Christ’s first coming. After Jesus was baptized and anointed by God’s Spirit, his ministry started and he began to be despised, particularly by the rulers, and he was literally put to death in ways described metaphorically by David.
Coincidentally, or perhaps not coincidentally at all, one of the greatest opponents of the teaching about Jesus was a Pharisee named Saul, who hounded Jesus’ followers in much the same way as King Saul hounded David. After his encounter with Christ, Saul gradually became known as the apostle Paul.
After being anointed, David spent much of his time hidden from Saul. Only many years later did David return and become king over Israel, which would correspond with Christ’s second coming.
In terms of prophecies, I have already quoted the one about a son being born to them who would be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” It also says, “Of the increase of his rulership and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and support it with judgment and justice, from now on and forever. The zeal of YHWH of hosts will do this.”48
If his rulership increases continually, then by definition it must start off small and grow ever larger, but it would take some time to grow. Also, how could one man rule over a kingdom “from now on and forever”? He would have to be immortal. This would explain why he could be called “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father.” If Jesus was resurrected and became immortal, he would certainly qualify for the role.
Elsewhere, the prophet Isaiah also alludes to two comings. In the first coming, Isaiah writes: “Look! My Lord YHWH will come with power, and his arm will rule for him. Look! His reward is with him, and the wage he pays is before him. Like a shepherd, he will feed his flock. With his arm, he will gather the lambs, and carry them in his bosom, conducting the ones being nursed.”49
Here, YHWH’s “arm” comes and acts like a shepherd. And “his reward is with him, and the wage he pays is before him.” But not everyone recognizes YHWH’s arm, for Isaiah later asks: “Who has believed our report? And to whom is the arm of YHWH revealed?”50 He then describes the Suffering Servant, but this one is such an unusual figure that not everyone would believe the report about him, which is exactly the case with the skeptic and atheist about Jesus.
However, later on, Isaiah describes a second coming. YHWH says to Zion: “Look! YHWH has proclaimed to the ends of the earth: ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Look! Your salvation is coming. Look! His reward is with him, and the wage he pays is before him.’”51
We are asked to “look!” three times, which is perhaps an indication to look deeper. The prophecy doesn’t name the form of God’s salvation that is coming, but there is a clue in the phrase, “his reward is with him, and the wage he pays is before him.” This exact phrase occurs only twice in the whole book of Isaiah.
The first time it was used, it described YHWH’s arm coming like a shepherd to gather and feed his flock, which would correspond with the first coming of Christ. The second time the phrase is used, it is for the salvation of Zion from her enemies. This would correspond to the second coming of Christ.
This is why Isaiah can say YHWH has already proclaimed it to the ends of the Earth. Prior to the second coming, the name of Jesus Christ, YHWH’s means of salvation, has already gone out to the ends of the Earth, so the nations can point Israel to their Messiah.
Now, shortly after saying “his reward is with him, and the wage he pays is before him” for the second time, Isaiah sees an intriguing vision of someone dressed in glorious clothing, marching with great power. Isaiah is so baffled that he has to ask, “Who is this?” The cryptic reply is, “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty in saving.” Isaiah asks him: “Why is your clothing red, and your garments like one treading in the winepress?” The man replies: “I have trodden the winepress alone, and there was no man with me from the peoples.” And again: “For the day of vengeance is in my heart, and the year of my redeemed ones has come.”52
If this is Christ, then no wonder “there was no man with me from the peoples.” Christians aren’t meant to fight, but to turn the other cheek. And if Jews do not believe in this figure, they will also not fight with him. Therefore, he has to do it without the aid of any man. There is also parallel prophecy earlier on in Isaiah that explains what this is all about. “It is the day of vengeance of YHWH, and the year of repayments for the cause of Zion.”53
Christians are in no doubt as to the identity of the man Isaiah saw, because the book of Revelation alludes to the same prophecies. It identifies him as the Word of God; and the gospel of John has already explained that Jesus in human form was formerly the Word in heaven.54
The book of Revelation says: “I saw heaven opened, and look! a white horse, and the one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and battles.” And again: “He is clothed in a garment dipped in blood, and he is called by the name The Word of God.” Also, “he treads the winepress of the fury and indignation of God the Almighty. And on his garment and on his thigh, he has a name written: ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’”55
These prophecies are all likely referring to the same event – the “day of vengeance of YHWH, and the year of repayments for the cause of Zion.” The revealing of the Word of God from heaven is the culmination of a great war in which God’s enemies have been gathered to fight against God.
But how is this even possible? How can mere humans fight against God? Presumably they do this by attacking Israel and Jerusalem, because other prophecies also suggest the same thing. For example, Zechariah contains a remarkable prophecy that has already come true in many ways.
YHWH says: “Look! I am making Jerusalem a bowl of shivering to all the surrounding peoples, and they will also be against Judah in the siege against Jerusalem. And it will be in that day, that I will make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all of the peoples. All of those burdened with it will certainly be cut to pieces, and all the nations of the earth will be gathered against her.”56
This is already a reality. For some people, even the mere existence of the Jewish state is controversial, and it has already been to war several times with the surrounding nations. The city of Jerusalem itself also has its controversies. It was divided for about two decades after the founding of modern Israel; and between 688 and 691AD, one of Islam’s holiest places, the Dome of the Rock, was built on top of or near to Judaism’s holy place, where YHWH’s Temple once stood.
Incidentally, this was 1,260 years prior to the founding of modern Israel in 1948AD, which could also be related to prophecies in Daniel and Revelation involving the numbers 1,260, 1,290 and 1,335. Whatever the case, God has certainly made Jerusalem a bowl of shivering and a stone of burden to the people around her, enough for a potential war.
But how could “all the nations of the earth” be gathered against her? In one sense, all the nations already gather on a regular basis, in forums such as the United Nations in New York, which has often proposed resolutions against Israel. Nevertheless, it must also be a real war, for the prophecy says:
“Look! A day of YHWH is coming, and your spoil will be divided in your midst. And I will gather all of the nations to Jerusalem for the war; and the city will be taken and the houses will be plundered and the women will be raped. And half of the city will go out into exile, and the rest of the people will not be cut off from the city.”57
It’s intriguing that the city was already divided, into East and West Jerusalem, before the Six Day War in 1967AD. As part of the spoil of winning that war, Israel was able to reunite the city. Will the city be divided again along the same lines? Whatever the case, once these things have occurred, God steps in, perhaps somewhat literally:
“And YHWH will go forth and fight against those nations as in the day of his fight in the day of attack. And his feet will stand in that day on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem from the east, and the Mount of Olives will be split in half from east to west, to form a very great valley; and half of the mountain will move northward and half of it southward.”58 Incidentally, the Mount of Olives already lies on a fault line running west to east, almost as if things have already been lined up in advance.
God seems intent on making that day a memorable one for the world. Zechariah says: “And YHWH my God will come, all of the holy ones with you. And it will be in that day, there will be no clear light. They will be congealed. And it will become one day that is known to YHWH, not day and not night, and it will be that at evening time it will become light.”59
And just in case that day isn’t memorable enough, God rounds it off with this: “And this will be the blow with which YHWH will strike all of the peoples who fight against Jerusalem: their flesh will rot away while standing on their feet, and their eyes will rot away in their sockets, and their tongues will rot away in their mouths.”60
If this sounds harsh, at least God has the courtesy of warning people well in advance, so they can stay as far away as possible when the time comes! This sounds remarkably like the effect of a nuclear explosion, although if it took place near Jerusalem, I suppose it would defeat the purpose of YHWH defending that city, so perhaps it is another city that experiences YHWH’s anger here. Either way, on that day you would probably not want to be in the place where all the nations unitedly gather against YHWH.
Perhaps the most direct prophecy about a “second coming” is the one in Daniel referring to a “son of man.” Daniel writes: “I was watching in the visions of the night, and look! one like a son of man was coming with the clouds of the heavens; and to the Ancient of Days he approached, and they brought him before him. And to him were given dominion, glory and kingdom; and all the peoples, nations and language groups will serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom one that will not be destroyed.”61
During his ministry, Jesus constantly referred to himself as the “son of man,” which was an allusion to Daniel’s prophecy. God also referred to the prophet Ezekiel as “son of man.” Ezekiel was the prophet who saw “visions of God” starting with a cloud and a fire taking hold of itself. Ezekiel was sent to God’s people shortly before the destruction of their nation. Jesus may also have been referring to himself as “son of man” to indicate that he was performing the same role as Ezekiel.
Either way, the phrase “son of man” sealed Jesus’ fate. When he was on trial, the high priest demanded: “I put you under oath by the living God to tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God!” Jesus replied: “You say this. Moreover I say to you, from now on, you will see the son of man sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Immediately afterwards, “the high priest ripped his garments, saying that ‘he has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Look! Now you have heard his blasphemy, what do you think?’ In answer they said: ‘He is liable to death.’”62
If the prophecy in Daniel is true, how can a “son of man” come with the clouds of the heavens, and be brought before God? He would first of all need to be born as a man, and then he would have to be lifted up to heaven. This is exactly what is reported about Jesus on the Mount of Olives, after he had assigned his disciples to preach about him to the ends of the Earth.
The book of Acts says, “saying these things, while they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their view. And as they were looking intently into heaven as he went up, look! two men stood by them in white garments, who also said: ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, the one taken up from you into heaven, will come therefore in the same way as you saw him going into heaven.’”63
This might sound rather surreal, but I think it was done like this to teach the disciples an important lesson: Jesus departed on a cloud, and will come again on the clouds. The apostles Peter, James and John were given a vision of this some time earlier, along with God’s voice, which strengthened their faith.64
In a prophecy about his return, Jesus also talked about the powers of the heavens being shaken, “and then the sign of the son of man in heaven will appear, and then all the tribes of the earth will grieve, and they will see the son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”65
Although I think Jesus was ultimately referring to his second coming here, a smaller version of this seems to have played out prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. According to Jewish historian Josephus, the stone launched by the Romans in their siege against Jerusalem was initially white, which could be seen because of its brightness by the watchmen, who cried out, “THE SON COMETH.” In this way, the people who would have been in the way avoided harm. The Romans therefore blackened the stone, so it couldn’t be discerned beforehand, and so it was able to destroy many of them in one blow.66
It’s quite possible the Romans were mocking the Jews when they said “THE SON COMETH.” However, I think it also serves as a powerful metaphor for the discernment, or lack of it, on the part of Jesus’ generation. Jesus had warned them: “When you see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolation of her has drawn near. Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains, and those in the midst of her depart into the country, and those in the country not enter into her.”67
A person didn’t even need to be a Christian to heed those words. If they could simply accept Jesus was a prophet or even just a wise man, they would have fled Jerusalem before the tribulation started. They didn’t even need to believe Jesus, for their own prophet Daniel said the same thing and even gave an indication of roughly when it would occur. According to Josephus, just prior to the tribulation that would come upon Jerusalem, “many of the most eminent of the Jews swam away from the city, as from a ship when it was going to sink.”68
Now, while those events indicated that Jesus was the “son of man,” they didn’t fulfill Daniel’s prophecy that “all the peoples, nations and language groups will serve him.” The nations still did their own thing. Therefore, the coming of the son of man on the clouds was still future, to be preceded by a clear sign. Perhaps Daniel himself saw the sign in his vision. Either way, I think it will be recognizable to all, and will cause the nations to grieve.
The return of the “son of man” marks the culmination of God’s plan, when this one is “given dominion, glory and kingdom.” But I still haven’t fully answered the question I posed before: why take so long?
Only God really knows the answer to that, but I suppose the long interval has given humans further opportunity to see the consequences of their own choices, to reap what they have sown, and to see both good and bad in every field of human endeavor, including the scientific and religious ones. We have seen some truly remarkable human achievements that are worthy of praise, but also some of the depths of depravity and evil. During this time, God has allowed people their own faith and opinions, including the faith that he does not exist.
Understandably, most people want good and not bad. But God has allowed both to exist, because if he only allowed good, we couldn’t learn both good and bad. And if only good is available to us, we are no longer making a choice. Nevertheless, God’s purpose is ultimately to bring an end to badness, and even reverse it.
For example, how can war ever end if there are always warmongers? If there are warmongers, there is always a risk of another world war. God’s solution may seem ironic: he is going to cause the nations to go to war with him! But this is what they are already inclined to do, and so God’s response is meant to be a dramatic showdown to prevent war in the future.
The nations may or may not like Christ being their king, but this is the only way the words of Isaiah in reference to the “last days,” and that was quoted in part outside of the United Nations building in New York, can really be fulfilled:
“And in the last days, it will be that the mountain of the house of YHWH will be established in the height of the mountains, and lifted up above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it.” And again: “Out of Zion law will go forth, and the word of YHWH from Jerusalem. And he will judge between the nations and correct many peoples; and they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning shears. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and neither will they learn war anymore.”69
Then there will be healing for the nations, both spiritually and physically. Revelation portrays a symbolic New Jerusalem about 12,000 stadia in length, width and height, which is about 2,220 kilometers, out of which flows a river of water of life, and trees of life, in which “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”70
The Hebrew prophets portray something similar, but give more realistic dimensions. The book of Zechariah, which contained the prophecy about the Mount of Olives being split, also says that “living waters will go forth from Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern Sea,” which is the Dead Sea, “and half of them toward the western Sea,” which is the Mediterranean.71
Ezekiel says the same thing but goes into much more detail. The waters flow from underneath the Temple in Jerusalem. They flow through the Arabah region and enter into the Dead Sea, which will be miraculously revived. Trees will grow on both banks of the stream. “And their fruit will be for food and their leaf for healing.” This will occur in territory assigned to the tribes of Israel.72
Why are there major differences between the Jewish and Christian versions? Ezekiel is describing the physical reality of what will occur, while Revelation gives it a spiritual meaning. Both prophecies complement each other. Ezekiel’s vision revolves around a physical Temple, and goes into exquisite detail about how it should be built, while Revelation says, “I did not see a temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty is its temple, and the Lamb.”73
This is not a contradiction, when we understand the symbology of the book of Revelation. The difference is, Christians do not need a temple, for they already know and believe God and Christ are their temple. However, the rest of the world hasn’t come to know this, and so God provides them with a physical Temple, while they catch up. Humans have demonstrated that without God’s presence, people quickly forget him. The ancient nation of Israel often forgot God, and some people think Jesus is a myth after a mere few thousand years!
Therefore a physical Temple, even though strictly speaking it isn’t needed, acts as a reassurance for all people that “look! The tent of God is with humans, and he will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death; neither will there be mourning nor outcry nor sorrow anymore; for the former things have passed away.”74
There will also be a resurrection of the dead. Speaking in his own defense before governor Felix, the apostle Paul said: “I have hope in God, which they themselves also look forward to, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”75
Why would God resurrect the unrighteous? I suppose we could think of it as a second chance. If the human legal system offers this opportunity to criminals, why should God not also offer this to those who didn’t get a chance to know him the first time round?
But then, if even unrighteous people are to be resurrected, what is the advantage of being righteous now? From a legal point of view there is a difference, as described by Jesus himself:
“Most truly I say to you, that the hour is coming, and is now, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and the ones hearing will live. For just as the Father has life in himself, so he also gives to the Son to have life in himself. And he gives him authority also to do the judging, because he is the ‘son of man.’ Do not marvel at this, for the hour is coming in which all those in the memorial tombs will hear his voice and come out; those doing good to a resurrection of life, but those practicing bad to a resurrection of judgment.”76
The Son of God is well suited to be our judge, because he was also a man, literally the ‘son of man,’ and can therefore relate to us and understand our weaknesses. Those “doing good” are resurrected to life, and do not come into judgment. Those “practicing bad” are also resurrected, but they will need to change. We might think of them as being on parole. They will need to get themselves written into a metaphorical “book of life” if they wish to continue living after they have been raised up.77
But the question “what is the advantage of being righteous now?” could really also be rephrased as: “What incentive do I have for being good? What am I going to get out of it?”
This is a somewhat childish way of thinking. Parents often give their children rewards for behaving, and so they raise children who expect to be rewarded for being good. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this, but at the same time, goodness is simple. It is founded on love, not rewards.
When you love your neighbor as yourself, you don’t need God or any other law to tell you not to sleep with your neighbor’s partner. This would be selfishness, not love. Every human knows this deep down. Our own conscience tells us this, along with thousands of years of collective experience. We now know what is bad, and we know it is ultimately self-destructive, or harmful to others.
In a sense, we could say that God’s plan has been about helping the human race to grow up. We started out wanting to be like God, knowing good and bad. God has allowed us to learn the meaning of these things for ourselves; but he has also given each person a shortcut to truly becoming like God and really knowing good and bad, in the person of Jesus.
For humans, Jesus is the only way, not because of a religious command, but because love is literally the only way to live. Love produces goodness. Any other way is ultimately self-destructive or destructive to others. For example, if we all walk over the homeless, we may find ourselves in the same situation one day. This is why Jesus taught the Golden Rule: do to others as you would have them do to you. And if we don’t turn the other cheek at some point, the cycle of revenge and violence will ultimately end in mutual destruction, or in self-destruction.
However, the Son himself cannot always turn the other cheek. Since God has given him authority to do the judging, sometimes wearing the judicial hat means passing sentence, in order to restrain or punish badness. If badness is allowed to continue forever, bad will always dominate and ultimately ruin the good. If you add a little poison to a cup of water, the whole drink is ruined. This is why God intends to bring badness to an end, through the rule of his Son.
You are, of course, free to accept or reject any of what I have written here. But this is what I perceive is God’s plan for humans, and for the world in which we live.
Now, the purpose of the first part of this “letter” has been to provide evidence that God exists, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that God isn’t the monster some skeptics and atheists have made him out to be, but he actually has the long-term welfare of all humans in mind; even atheists and skeptics. Indeed, the existence of the document you have been reading and what it contains, is also evidence of this.
In the second part of this letter, I will put life itself under the microscope. Has a natural origin of life been proven? Was life on Earth built over billions of years by chemical fluctuations, evolutionary forces and a large helping of luck; or did God have a hand in it at some point? If so, at what point, and how could we know? I will also look at important questions about origins that I have deliberately avoided in the first half of this letter.
1 Genesis 3:15. 2 Deuteronomy 6:4-6. 3 Isaiah 40:3-5. 4 Isaiah 9:6,7. 5 Isaiah 42:1-4. 6 Isaiah 49:6. 7 Jeremiah 31:31-34. 8 Malachi 2:17; 3:1,2. 9 Isaiah 49:3. 10 Hosea 11:1. Matthew 2:15. 11 John 14:9. 12 John 5:24. 13 Luke 12:32-34. 14 Acts 2:44,45. 15 Isaiah 8:14. 16 Isaiah 49:7. 17 Isaiah 53:8,12. 18 Zechariah 12:10. 19 John 3:16,17. 20 Malachi 3:2,3,17. 21 Zechariah 13:8,9. 22 Daniel 9:26. 23 See Letter To The Jews, chapters 7, 12 and 27 at lettertothejews.com 24 Acts 1:8. 25 Luke 13:28. 26 Luke 13:29,30. 27 Isaiah 49:9-12. 28 Revelation 7:9,14-17. 29 Isaiah 49:14,15. 30 Isaiah 49:21. 31 Isaiah 49:22,23. 32 Deuteronomy 30:4,5. 33 Isaiah 66:8. 34 Luke 21:22-24. 35 Daniel 8:1-14. 36 Hosea 3:4,5. 37 Hosea 6:1,2. 38 Psalm 90:4. 39 Ezekiel 38:8,16. 40 Ezekiel 38:16. 41 Ezekiel 38:19,20,23. 42 Ezekiel 39:22-24. 43 The story of Joseph can be found in Genesis chapters 37, 39-45. 44 Psalm 22:15. 45 Psalm 22:17,18. 46 Psalm 22:6-8. 47 Psalm 109:25. 48 Isaiah 9:6,7. 49 Isaiah 40:10,11. 50 Isaiah 53:1. 51 Isaiah 62:11. 52 Isaiah 63:1-4. 53 Isaiah 34:8. 54 John 1:1-3,14. 55 Revelation 19:11-16. 56 Zechariah 12:2,3. 57 Zechariah 14:1,2. 58 Zechariah 14:3,4. 59 Zechariah 14:5-7. 60 Zechariah 14:12. 61 Daniel 7:13,14. 62 Matthew 26:63-66. 63 Acts 1:9-11. 64 Luke 9:28-36. See also 2 Peter 1:16-19. 65 Matthew 24:30. 66 Josephus, The Wars Of The Jews, Book 5, Chapter 6, Section 3. See the footnote in Josephus: The Complete Works, translated by William Whiston, published in 1998 by Thomas Nelson Publishers. 67 Luke 21:20,21. 68 Josephus, The Wars Of The Jews, Book 2, Chapter 20, Section 1. 69 Isaiah 2:2-4. 70 Revelation 22:2. 71 Zechariah 14:8. 72 Ezekiel 47:1,7,8,12. 73 Revelation 21:22. 74 Revelation 21:3,4. 75 Acts 24:15. 76 John 5:25-29. 77 See Revelation 20:11-15.