Monthly Archives: August 2017

Josephus

 

Josephus was a Jewish historian of the 1st Century. He was born in Jerusalem in 37 AD and lived until about the year 100 AD. He was born into a well to do family; his father was a priest and his mother was descended from the royal Hasmonean Dynasty that ruled Judea until the Romans moved in in the middle of the first century before Christ. Josephus was highly educated and while in his 20s was part of a diplomatic mission to the Emperor Nero to secure the release of some Jewish priests being held by the Romans.

When the Jews launched their ill-fated rebellion against Roman occupation in the mid-60s AD, the ruling Sanhedrin in Jerusalem appointed Josephus military governor of Galilee, where he led a spirited and innovative campaign against both Jewish rivals and the invading Roman army of future emperor Vespasian until he surrendered himself after a six week city at the Galilean city of Jotapata in 67 AD. He then served as interpreter for Vespasian until word arrived that the emperor had died and Vespasian was elevated to the throne by his army. Josephus then served as interpreter to Vespasian’s son Titus during his campaign in Judea proper that culminated in the capture and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Josephus then went to Rome and was made a citizen, and began writing his histories.

Josephus’ primary writings that survive include:
The Jewish War, published around 75 AD and detailing the history of Judea leading up to the failed rebellion against the Romans and the sack of Jerusalem;
The Antiquities of the Jews, published around 94 AD and covering Jewish history from the Creation to the middle of the first century;
Against Apion, published late in Josephus’ life and which served as a defense of the history and antiquity of the Jewish people;
and My Life, which is his autobiography, of course.

Josephus was most likely a member of the party of the Pharisees, and it is through his writings that we possess most of our knowledge about the three major sects in Judea at the time, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the monkish Essenes who left us the Dead Sea Scrolls. Josephus also provides us a great deal of historical information regarding Israel from the building of the second temple until 70 AD, including the long years ruled by the Macedonian heirs of Alexander the Great, the successful rebellion led by the Maccabees and the rule of the Hasmonean dynasty, and the ascension of the Idumean Herod the Great to the throne and the tumultuous rule of his dynasty. In his “Antiquities”, Josephus gives us non-Biblical references to John the Baptist, James the Just (brother of Jesus), and Jesus Himself, although in fairness I must point out that most modern scholars believe those references were added by later, Christian writers. (These, however, are the same scholars who dispute nearly everything about the Bible in an attempt to discredit it.) It is widely believed that Josephus became an Ebionite Christian late in his life, although Josephus himself does not state so in his writings. I’ve read translator William Whiston’s notes on that possibility and he builds a strong case based on what Josephus and others wrote in the early Christian period.

Josephus was an important writer for the Christian faith (even though he did not plan it that way and in fact wrote largely for the Romans) simply because he preserved for us a wealth of information concerning the history of the Jewish people that our Savior came out of that we otherwise would not have. He includes much information that was not included in our Old Testament but which corroborates it. He gives us most of our available information about the years between the building of the second temple in Jerusalem and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, an event which he saw as Divine punishment for many sins, especially the murder of James the Just. Whiston was convinced that Josephus drew from the library of sacred writings gathered in Jerusalem by Nehemiah at the time of the return from Babylon. Without Josephus we would know next to nothing of the Pharisees and the Sadducees other than what the Gospels state. His works provide a treasure trove of background information regarding the Judea and Jerusalem and Galilee that Jesus knew and loved. His writings may not qualify as light reading for anyone, but if you have an interest in the history of ancient Israel up to and through the time of Christ and the apostles, Josephus is well worth spending time with.

“And now, ‘O most wretched city, what misery so great as this didst thou suffer from the Romans, when they came to purify thee from thy intestine hatred! For thou couldst be no longer a place fit for God, nor couldst thou longer continue in being, after thou hadst been a sepulchre for the bodies of thine own people, and hadst made the holy house itself a burying place in this civil war of thine!'” Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book V, Chapter 1 Section 3.

Grace and peace to you all from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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A Word from a Year Ago

Our civilization and our culture have wandered far from the will of God, not surprising since this world has been in rebellion against God for countless generations. A just judgement is coming upon this world for its sins which people revel in. But a judgement is also coming on the church, on the Body of Christ, for we have strayed too even though we are God’s chosen people. We have strayed into many sins, sexual immorality, acceptance of perversion, greed, vain ambition, dissension, hatred and more. We have largely fallen for the lie of humanism that teaches that humanity can solve our own problems if we just try enough and convert enough people into a progressive way of thinking. We cannot save our civilization no matter how hard we try. Humanity is doomed to fail and it will only be the direct intervention of God when Jesus Christ returns in power and glory that will prevent humanity from destroying itself. We all need to repent. All we can do is throw ourselves on the mercy of the Lord and humble ourselves in repentance and change. He knows we can’t become sinless and perfect in mortal bodies, but He also expects those of us who claim to be His children to resist sin at all times and never give up. We need to get back to conducting ourselves as Jesus and the apostles explained it in the Bible. We don’t want to end up like those who will cry “Lord, Lord” at the return of Christ only to be told to get away because He doesn’t know the evildoers. Be kind and gentle to everyone, hate no one, be humble, accept each other as Christians in love and end the dissensions between groups that has been occuring since the beginning of the Church. Repent of our sins and return to the ways of God. Trust in Jesus for our Salvation and worship Him in spirit and truth, not just with the words from our lips. Time is running out, and just as God punished ancient Israel for rebelling against Him so He will also punish us for straying from His ways. Remember, God will always discipline the ones He loves. Please repent and change while we still can, for the hour is very late and Tribulation is right around the corner.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Beware the Sinful Nation…

Jeremiah 51:49

“Babylon must fall because of Israel’s slain, just as the slain in all the earth have fallen because of Babylon.”

The raising up of a nation to serve God’s purpose and then later punishing that nation for its sins and wickedness is a principle established throughout the Old Testament but just as valid today; remember, God never changes, and what He did 3,000 years ago He will also do today. The Second Babylonian empire was raised up as a tool to punish many nations for their wickedness, but especially to punish Judah and Jerusalem, which it did in July of 586 BC. This had already been an established way of punishing nations for wickedness before this. The nation of Israel itself stayed in slavery in Egypt and wandered in the desert until the sins of the peoples living in Canaan were complete. Assyria became a great nation and was used by God to punish the northern Kingdom of Israel for idolatry; the Assyrian capital Nineveh repented and turned to God after Jonah was sent there, but ultimately they were punished when the Babylonians conquered them. And the Roman Empire, pagan and brutal as it was, was raised up both to punish other nations for their sins but also to provide the environment and infrastructure needed to facilitate the spread of the Gospel. I could go on but you get the idea. My point is this – no nation which has been raised up by God as a tool to work His will is exempt from His rod of punishment when they go astray and fall away from God. To rest upon one’s laurels and think, “I’m exempt from punishment because I did these good things” is a very dangerous way to live as a person or a nation. If even Israel, God’s chosen people and His inheritance among the nations, was not exempt from His punishment and correction when they went astray, then no nation is exempt. We must, as Jesus said, persevere to the end, and that is just as true for a nation as it is for a person. The nation called Babylon the Great in the Book of Revelation, which suffers terrible punishment for its wickedness, probably did great things serving the will of God, but it strayed into wickedness. No nation is free to exist in its own wickedness no matter how much good it has done in the past. We would be wise to remember that today.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Solar Eclipse Mania

Here in Oregon at least eclipse mania is running rampant regarding the total solar eclipse coming on Monday, August 21st. People are planning eclipse parties and organized “experiences” to celebrate the eclipse. Hundreds of thousands, if not a million or more visitors, are expected to flood into Oregon during the days just before and after the eclipse. The authorities are trying to avoid creating panic among residents, but at the same time they are warning that there will be immense traffic jams, shortages of necessities, and possible failure of such services as cell phones, the Internet, and possibly even electricity due to being overwhelmed by the huge influx of visitors. No one knows exactly what to expect, but all the projections for Lincoln County here on the coast (where I live) are that we will get hundreds of thousands of people coming here to watch the eclipse at “ground zero”, where it will first reach the coast of the US. But there is a bigger picture here that most people are missing. This eclipse will qualify as one of the “signs in the sun, moon and stars” prophesied by Jesus in Luke 21:25. There is a long history of solar eclipses coming shortly before disasters of one kind or another, far too many to list in this post, but just taking a cursory look at a list of total solar eclipses visible in at least parts of North America since 1901, several interesting dates stand out. The last total eclipse visible in the main United States was on June 8, 1918. “But World War 1 ended a few months later, how was that disastrous?” True, but in 1918 the terrible Spanish flu pandemic began, and before it petered out in 1920 it had killed an estimated 50-100 million people worldwide. Another interesting date is the eclipse on July 9th, 1945; one month later the atomic bombs forced Japan to surrender after the detruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I could go on but you get the idea. This eclipse will be no different, it will be serve as a warning from God that some disaster is about to fall, and since this one will be visible from coast to coast in America it is aimed at us. We have to realize that in spite of all the noble words being pronounced by political and religious leaders about peace and safety possible in our day, our world is headed to judgement for our own wickedness. It is coming and will be unavoidable. Our only response should be to repent and turn to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and then patiently wait for His return in power and glory to claim the earth as His own. It’s coming sooner rather than later. I plan on watching this eclipse, of course, but I do so in the knowledge that it is a wonder arranged by God for His purpose. Something to remember while we are swarming to witness this unique event.

May our LORD God have mercy on us in Jesus’ name.

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Wars and Rumors of Wars

Matthew 24:4-8

“Jesus answered, ‘Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, “I am the Christ” and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.'”

Wars and rumors of wars. Kingdom rising against kingdom. We are seeing that come to pass, and today thanks to the ambitions of a dictator in North Korea we stand at the brink of yet another war, but one of a far more destructive and dangerous kind. We are closer to nuclear war today than at any time since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. But how should we as believers in Jesus react to this threat? Fear is the natural reaction, certainly. A terrible sadness at the thought of millions losing their lives of course. But what did Jesus say when He was prophesying the events leading up to His return in power and glory? In Luke 21:28 the Savior tells us “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” That is what our response should be…hopeful anticipation. Not hoping for the devastation that will come upon the earth before the end. Not looking forward for the rise of the Beast and the introduction of his mark, and certainly not delighting in the terrible persecutions of believers to come when Satan’s war against the saints kicks into high gear. We already know from Scripture that things are about to get very, very bad here on earth, and if we believers ever needed patient endurance it is now. Yet, at the same time we are to look up and rejoice, for these things all mean that Jesus Christ is about to return in an impossible to miss way and establish His rule over the nations here on earth. It means that our redemption is just around the corner. Jesus’ return and our being raised imperishable (or transformed, not all of us will die before His return) is the great hope Christians have been longing for ever since the day when Christ ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. So do not despair when Kim Jong Un threatens a nuclear attack upon America; a nuclear war will happen at some point. Do not let a godless madman rob you of your joy in the Lord. Be strong and stay true to Jesus, for His return is coming, and much sooner than most people think. These few years of death and destruction will be as nothing compared to an eternity with our Lord, and soon they will be forgotten. He has promised to return and not abandon us, and if God promises it then you can count on it happening. Pray hard and share His Word with as many as possible, for our redemption draws near.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Science versus Faith

Proverbs 25:2

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter;
to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”

Ever since the expulsion from the Garden of Eden people have been trying to figure things out with varying degrees of success. Curiosity about the world around us is just a part of what makes us human. Whether it is a baby discovering and exploring his or her own fingers and toes or an astronomer peering through a telescope, humans have this need to understand the world around us. Most times this is a good thing, but like anything else it can be taken too far. Today I want to look at science, particularly how it stands in relation to faith. I personally think that science is a basically good thing, for it has led to an understanding of Creation that is broad and deep and technological advances that have transformed our world, for better or worse. Without science we would not have refrigerators to keep our food fresh or the Internet for you and I to communicate with each other. Without medical science we would know next to nothing about cancer or Hepatitus C or any number of diseases; without medical science I and probably some of you would not be alive to have this conversation. But science can be taken too far. I define science as the means by which we learn about the mechanics of how God ordered this universe, from the farthest galaxy to the tiniest subatomic particle. That is, at the core, all that science can hope for. Understanding the mechanisms by which God has ordered the weather to work has given us the sometimes iffy field of meteorology and the ability to forecast deadly storms such as hurricanes. Science is based on what can be observed through one means or another, and when they stick more or less to that they are on fairly solid ground; when they start talking about esoteric theoretical ideas like string theory they lose credibility with me. But like everything else, science can fall short of the goal, and scientists themselves are flawed and fallible people just like every other person on the planet. I’m reminded of how for many centuries the science of astronomy erroneously taught that the earth was the center of everything and that the sun orbited the earth, until guys like Copernicus and Galileo showed otherwise and the old Ptolemaic system had to be scrapped. I remember when I was a preteen the big debate in geoscience was the at the time relatively new theory of plate tectonics, whih has been since shown accurate and very few people, and fewer geologists, argue against. But we can take it too far, and with typical human short-sightedness we cannot see where it will lead us. Pushing science and technology too far has led to the controversial science of genetic engineering, the rise of RFID chip technology, and of course nuclear weapons. One mistake we have made is to assume that scientists always know what they are talking about; they do not. The biggest mistake I think we have made relative to science is to elevate science and its practitioners to godlike priority over everything else, and that brings me back to my original point, which is the relationship between science and faith. Some people see science as being some kind of Satanic wool pulled over our eyes, while others see it as the ultimate judge of what is real or not. Both positions are dead wrong. Science, when used properly and with the right mindset, can be a blessing to the human race. Remember, God gave us minds that think not just because He could, but so that we would use them, and it is interesting to note how many scientists through the centuries have firmly believed in God. But we must keep science in its proper place. Science, once again, merely studies the mechanics of how God has ordered Creation, but it does not explain the bigger question of why. But where most people go wrong is when they try to eliminate God from the equation. The big bang theory is a pretty good way of explaining how the universe came into being, but it cannot address what existed before our universe exploded into being nor can it explain why it happened in the first place. What matters to me is not so much the hows and whys it was done, but the fact that it was done in the first place. Human arrogance assumes that we should be able to figure everything out scientifically, but when you try to avoid taking God into account you will just fail miserably. Science is like everything else we humans do, it is flawed and limited and often wrong. We are told that blessed are those who believe without having seen and I agree with that completely. We aren’t meant to understand it all, at least not in this age. Pursue scientific knowledge and technological advancement, particularly in those fields that help other people, but do so in submission to God and acknowledging His supremacy as Lord and Creator. If you can do that you are doing pretty well, I think. Look at Luke, the gospel writer, who was a physician, which made him a man of science; but he was also a man of great faith, and when it comes down to it that is why we remember him. Don’t try to condemn humanity to barbaric ignorance, but at the same time don’t lose sight of what is most important, submission to God and faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Peace and grace be unto you all.

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