A Messiah, a Savior, was promised to the people of Israel. As far back as the third chapter of Genesis, God promised that one would come to rescue His people. And that Messiah did come in the fullness of time. Welcome to the Monday edition of Renewing Your Mind.
I'm Lee Webb. Every Christmas we sing, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. It paints a picture of the longing of God's people for their Savior. That hope is grounded in Old Testament promises.
Today and all this week, R.C. Sproul will walk us through the most important Messianic prophecies, and we'll see that Jesus fulfilled them all. As we prepare this year to celebrate Christmas, we're going to spend a few days looking at some of the important texts of the Old Testament that predicted the coming of the Messiah. So as we contemplate the advent of Christ, which means His coming to the world, we want to do it in terms of how Christ fulfilled the Old Testament promises of His coming. Now before we actually look at those Old Testament prophecies of His advent, I want to begin today by looking briefly at the beginning of the Christmas narrative itself as we find it in the second chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke. The Christmas story begins with these words, Luke chapter 2 verse 1, and it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.
So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Now we're all familiar with that introduction to the narrative of the birth of Jesus. But what I want to look at today is the references to this birth as they are placed concretely in the context of real history. The opening words of the story are these, and it came to pass. Now we have to understand initially the difference between history and fairy tale.
The classic beginning of fairy tales in children's literature is the opening line that goes like this, once upon a time. And we use that particular preface to create a setting that is really nebulous, polymorphic, and uncertain with respect to any specific time period because the time period really doesn't matter for fairy tales or for myths. But one of the things that we're concerned about when we look at Jewish literature is the commitment of the Jewish people to an understanding of a redemption that takes place in history. Now I understand that in our day there have been all kinds of attempts by critical scholars to dehistoricize the Scriptures and to rip the Scriptures out of their historical setting, or to identify the Scriptures with a particular type of mythology. We remember Rudolf Bultmann who was one of the most important New Testament scholars of the 20th century, this German scholar who said that for the Bible, and particularly the New Testament, to be relevant to modern people we must approach the task of interpreting the Scriptures by using a method that he called de-mythologizing the Bible. He said that the Bible is essentially a book of myths. And nevertheless, at the core of the mythological structure of the Bible is a small kernel of what he calls historie. And so it's the task of the modern person to peel away the husk of mythology in order to reach that kernel of real history.
Now, Bultmann also took the position that redemption itself, salvation, is really not a historical event as such. The real history of the New Testament doesn't give us the truth about Jesus, but rather gives us the reflection of the faith of the people who wrote about him in that particular period. The faith of the early church is a matter of historical record. The object of the faith of the early church, however, is steeped in mythology. Others have tried to show parallels between Greek mythology, for example, and the New Testament portrait of Jesus. I remember teaching a class in philosophy many years ago in a college setting, and my students kept coming up with all kinds of questions about the mythological foundation of the New Testament.
And I thought these questions were somewhat sophisticated, and I wondered what was provoking this rash of questions. And so I asked them in class, I said, why are you asking me all these questions about Greek mythology? And they answered by saying that their literature professor had been teaching them a course in the humanities, and they were studying Ovid's Metamorphoses.
And in Ovid's poetic work, there are frequent references to dying and rising gods and mythological events surrounding the mythological deities of the day. And the literature professor was laboring the point of trying to show the parallels between Greek and Roman mythology and the New Testament. So this professor was a friend of mine, and we went to the snack bar at the student union building one afternoon, and I asked him about all of this. And he said, yes, he was making those comparisons in his class. And I said, well, while you're doing it, I said, are you also pointing out the difference between the Greek mythological literature and the literature of the New Testament?
And he said, well, what differences are there? And I said, well, perhaps the most important difference is the fundamental difference between the Greek understanding of history and the Jewish understanding of history. To the Greek, there was no real attempt to ground the stories of their gods and goddesses in real time and space.
They understood that the myths were precisely that, myths. But the Jewish claim in Jewish literature was that the actions of God about which they were writing were true historical events. And in fact, to the Greek, it would be scandalous to have God become physically involved in any way with real history. One of the things that we often overlook is that the real scandal about New Testament Christianity to Greek thinking was not so much the resurrection of Christ as it was the incarnation, the idea that God would ever contaminate Himself by taking upon Himself a physical body in any way because of the prevailing influence of Platonism in Greek thought that saw anything physical as being inherently imperfect.
And it would be beneath the dignity of God to be engaged in any way in incarnation. But beyond that, one of the dominant motifs of Greek thought was the motif of a cyclical view of history, a cyclical view of history, which means that there is an eternal recurrence of human events, that history has no beginning, that the universe as such is eternal, and history moves in a continuous circle, and circles have no definitive beginning and no specific point of termination. And over against that is the Jewish view of history, which in distinction from the Greek view of history was linear. That is, the Bible begins on the very first page by speaking of what?
A beginning. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. That's the primary assertion of the literature of the Old Testament, that redemption is not even dealt with until first of all it's established that there is a creation, that history has a beginning point, but that history not only begins, but it moves towards a point of consummation. Now, let's talk about that for a few minutes in light of this statement of Luke at the beginning of his gospel when he describes the narrative of the birth of Jesus. He says, "'And it came to pass.'" What he's saying is something happened, and that which happened happened in time and space. Something happened that he recorded, that he had indicated already earlier in the preface to his gospel, that he had undertaken his own research interviewing eyewitnesses of these accounts and so on. And so the affirmations that he is making are affirmations of history.
He said, "'It came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.'" And then in the next sentence he says, "'This census took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.'" So the setting for the birth narrative of Jesus is placed squarely in the context of real secular history, if you will, because there really was a Caesar Augustus and there really was a Quirinius.
There really was a Rome and there really was a Syria. And so Luke's assertion about the birth of Jesus is in a sense already demythologized. It's already set directly in the context of history. Now a word that is used frequently in the New Testament with respect to the events that transpire that are told up there is the Greek word pleroma.
And that term, pleroma, is usually translated by the English word fulness. And we hear the expression subsequently in the New Testament regarding the fullness of time. Now to understand that, I want to back up into another little abstract study, if you will. Remembering Bultmann, who I mentioned a few moments ago, who wants to demythologize the New Testament, Bultmann argued that salvation as such is not something that takes place in history, but it is something that takes place in what he calls the eternal now. Or to be just a little bit technical for a second, he speaks about redemption occurring in the hic et nunc.
And if you know your Latin, remember, it means the here and the now. And redemption is something that happens instantly, suddenly, immediately, and vertically. To use his expression, redemption takes place zenkrecht von oben, directly and immediately from above, when a person has kind of an existential experience of encountering the meaning of Jesus in a vertical existential event that is not something that happens on the horizontal plane of history. N.C. calls his theology a theology of timelessness for the express reason that he rips the concept of redemption out of the foundation of chronological history. Now Bultmann's challenge to New Testament scholarship created a furor in the sixties and seventies, particularly on the continent of Europe. And one of his chief critics was a Swiss scholar by the name of Oskar Kuhlmann. Kuhlmann wrote three books in which he critiqued the Bultmannian school of biblical interpretation. The trilogy involved his very important Christology of the New Testament and his work Salvation in History where he demonstrates that in Jewish categories the context for salvation is always real history. But the book I'm most concerned about to mention briefly now is his book that perhaps catapulted him to international fame that was entitled Christus und Rezeit, Christ and Time. Christ and Time.
Now what Kuhlmann did was this. He carefully examined all the time frame references of the New Testament and examined them not only in terms of the Greek antecedent meanings of the words that were used, but also in terms of the Jewish import of these ideas. And so he carefully examined words like day, hour. How many times, for example, do we encounter Jesus speaking about His hour?
My hour has not yet come. Or the hour has come and now is. And he speaks with those kinds of time frame references. And Kuhlmann noticed, of course, that in the Greek world and in the Greek language there are two distinct words in Greek, both of which are and may be translated into the English by the word time, time itself. And those two words are the words kronos and kairos, k-a-i-r-o-s. And he saw enormous significance in this distinction that is found in these Greek words.
And let me take a minute to explain that to you. The word kronos, c-h-r-o-n-o-s, is a word with which we're familiar. We have some newspapers that are called chronicles. We have these little instruments that we wear on our wrists that we normally call watches or wristwatches, but sometimes more technically are referred to as chronometers because they meter, means to measure, they measure time. And so what he says is that the word chronos refers basically to the normal moment-to-moment passing of time that takes place as an integral part of our experience. We are creatures who live our lives in this horizontal plane of moment-by-moment passing of time. We have a chronology to our lives so that everything that takes place takes place, anything real that takes place takes place within the context of chronos.
Now the word kairos is a little tougher to get a hold of because we don't have an exact word that completely captures this Greek word kairos. The word kairos in the Greek refers to a specific particular moment in time that is of extraordinary significance. It's not something that takes place outside of time, but it takes place within the broader flow of time. It is a point within chronos that defines the meaning of all time.
Now we have a distinction that comes close. We make a distinction between historical and historic. Now everything that ever happened is historical, isn't it? But we don't use the term historic to refer to every event that ever took place.
But we think of 1492 as a historic year because Columbus discovered America, or 1066 was historic because of the significance of the Battle of Hastings and 1776 and so on. And we try to say there are certain events that take place in time that are of crucial meaning. And the Jew, when he writes of his history, doesn't just give us the whole chronicle of world history, but is a concern to speak of those kairotic moments in time, those particular meanings of time that are pregnant with significance, the Exodus, the Babylonian captivity, the birth of Jesus, the cross of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus. These are decisive moments that define all of history. And supremely, the birth of Christ occurs as a kairotic moment in the fullness of time. It's not something that happens instantly like Athena being born de novo from the head of Zeus, but it comes to pass after centuries and centuries and centuries of prophetic promise and of patient waiting by the people of God. And what we're going to do then is give a brief look at some of the Old Testament historical background that looks forward to the future kairotic event of the coming of Christ to the world. And just as those generations look forward wondering who the Messiah would be, we have the privilege of looking back in awe and wonder at the coming of Christ.
All week here on Renewing Your Mind, we are pleased to feature R.C. Sproul's series, Coming of the Messiah. By looking back at Old Testament prophecies, we can see God's meticulous plan for our salvation.
We would like for you to have this series. Contact us today with a donation of any amount, and we'll provide you with a digital download of all five messages. In addition to the series, we want you to have a copy of Dr. Stephen Nichols' book, Peace, Classic Readings for Christmas. In it, Dr. Nichols reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas and the earthshaking implications of Christ's appearance.
So request both of these resources when you go online to renewingyourmind.org or when you call us at 800-435-4343. I have a copy of Dr. Nichols' book here in front of me, and I'm leafing through it. It is beautiful. It's a hardcover book with striking artwork and so much insight into Christmas. My wife and I are proud to display this on our coffee table during this season. One story in the book really captured my attention, and I asked Dr. Nichols to tell us about it.
Yes. The story of the Christmas Day truce is really quite a story. It comes to us from World War I. It's Christmas Day, and that fighting, that relentless sound of the machine guns and the artillery has silenced, and it is silent on Christmas Day. And both sides start coming out of the trenches, and eventually soccer balls emerge, and here are the English and the Germans playing soccer, exchanging photographs, exchanging rations, and celebrating in the midst of this horrific war a day of peace.
But evening comes, and they go back into the trenches, and the next day it all starts over again. And I think it illustrates that ultimately this day of Christmas, what does it represent? Well, it does represent peace. But so many, when they celebrate Christmas, they don't have that true understanding of peace. They have far too of a temporal understanding and far too of a temporary understanding of peace. That's ultimately what the Christmas Day truce was. It was a temporary stay. And even the treaty to end World War I, we know how that turned out.
It too was temporary, and there we go again in the 1940s, and once again the world is plunged into war. You know, we think about Christmas, I'm reminded of what Dr. Sproul talked about when he talked about what does it mean to be saved? And the first question he would ask is, what are we saved from? We are saved from what, he would ask. And that's why Jesus came.
He came to give us peace, because what we need to be saved from is the wrath of God. That's the ultimate problem. Wars, suffering, illnesses, diagnoses, all of these things are symptoms and they're results of what is the ultimate problem. And our ultimate problem is our sin, and that leads us to our ultimate problem of being under the wrath of God. We are not at peace.
The Bible makes it very clear we are enemies with God. And yet into this world, God sent his son. He sent a baby.
He sent one who was, as the angels declare, for us and for our salvation. And that's the beautiful message of peace. This is no temporary peace. This is no temporal peace. This is permanent lasting peace as we escape the wrath of God because this child who was born for us and for our salvation. This is no temporary peace. It is a permanent peace. And that peace is what you'll read about when you request Dr. Stephen Nichols' book, Peace, Classic Readings for Christmas. Request it along with Dr. Sproul's series, Coming of the Messiah, when you contact us today with a donation of any amount. Our web address again is renewingyourmind.org. If you prefer, you can call us with your gift at 800-435-4343.
I hope you'll join us again tomorrow as we continue Dr. Sproul's series, and here's a preview of what we'll hear. In the drama of the cross in the New Testament, we see the crushing blow that Christ, the descendant of Eve, delivers to Satan. But he does it at great expense.
He doesn't do it without injury and pain to himself. The Promises of the Messiah from the earliest pages of Scripture. Please join us again tomorrow for Renewing Your Mind.
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