4.1.5 Son: The Family's Representative
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 4.1.5
Son: The Family’s Representative and Heir
Once we get past the mind-blowing epiphany that the Creator of the universe wants to share a loving, personal, familial relationship with us of the “human persuasion,” then understanding His use of symbols becomes the key to our comprehension—not to mention our ability to avail ourselves of the blessings He has made available to us. We have seen how Yahweh casts Himself in the symbolic role of “Father,” and how God’s maternal nature is revealed in the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence in the lives of believers—as our “heavenly Mother,” so to speak (though the Bible never actually uses that potentially misleading phrase). And we have explored how we, as God’s “children,” are to relate to each other as brothers and sisters—in familial love and mutual support—even if our “relationship” is only that of fellow human beings sharing a home: this nice planet that our Father has provided for us.
Let us now continue our study of the symbolic components of God’s family with a look at the “son” metaphor. (We’ll look at “daughters” in a separate chapter.) Since Yahshua the Messiah—God in flesh—appeared among us as “the Son of God” and was referred to as the “Son of Man,” some might errantly begin with the mindset that males are somehow better or more important than females. They might conclude that having a Y-chromosome entitles a man (somebody’s son) to treat a female (somebody’s daughter) as inferior. Indeed, since the dawn of civilization, this male-centric attitude has been at the root of one of the most systematic and pervasive injustices plaguing the human race.
This was not by Yahweh’s design or intention. He created Eve as Adam’s equal, his partner, his helper, his comforter, and the one standing at his side (as the Holy Spirit stands by us as our paraklétos—our advocate and supporter). But Adam (as far as we’re told) had been instructed about the no-no tree before Eve was even on the scene. So it was Adam’s responsibility to obey God, and to teach his bride to do so as well—which he did. Eve was deceived by the serpent (Satan) into eating the forbidden fruit, but Adam disobeyed God with his eyes wide open—hence the differences in their stated punishments.
God told Eve, “I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16 NLT) The idea of men ruling over women (which was not Yahweh’s original plan) was the direct result of Eve’s sin—which basically consisted of ignoring the one thing her husband had asked of her: don’t eat from that tree, Sweetie. It’s pretty ironic, if you think about it.
Adam’s sentence was far worse: “Cursed is the ground for your sake. In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19) Hard labor, frustration, and death followed in the wake of his blatant disobedience. Some things never change. Of course, since Adam and Eve were “one flesh,” the inconvenient reality of human mortality applied to her as well. And all of their sons and daughters would suffer the same fate.
So female subservience is the direct result of Eve’s sin, not God’s order or design. We need to comprehend that (the world’s attitudes notwithstanding) sons are not superior to daughters, though they do fulfill separate symbolic roles designed to teach us about different facets of our relationship with our Creator. As I’ve said before, God is neither male nor female, but “He” has made us men and women so that we might comprehend “His” attributes. As a practical matter, Judeo-Christianity is the only belief system on earth that treats sons and daughters with equal respect—which is not to say Jews and Christians don’t ever get it wrong, especially when they ignore their scriptures.
The Dictionary of Bible Themes defines “sons” as: “The male offspring of parents. While sharing in the general privileges and responsibilities of children, sons had special claims to inheritance from their parents. To refer to Christians as ‘sons of God’ is to identify both their relationship to God and also their rights as heirs of God. A significant number of titles for Jesus Christ make use of the term ‘Son,’ stressing the close relationship between the Father and Son.”
Obviously, in the spiritual realm, these attributes and relationships are not restricted to male believers (“sons”) but extend also to females as well. (In other words, you don’t have to be a male in order to be saved, be redeemed by the blood of Christ, and inherit the promises of God.) This principle is mirrored in the traditional cultural practice of family legacies: only sons received inheritances, because daughters were expected to marry, becoming “one flesh” with their husbands and therefore equal and rightful recipients of their inheritances. Thus the church, as the bride of Christ, receives no direct inheritance from Yahweh, but has become rather the full partner and co-heir in the legacy of her “husband,” Yahshua. Need I say it? We “married well,” didn’t we?
The usage of the Hebrew words for “son” and “daughter” is revealing. The Hebrew noun bath (daughter) is used (with its derivatives) 589 times in scripture, but “son” (Hebrew: ben) is found over eight times as often—4,932 times. This doesn’t mean our heavenly Father considers His sons more important than His daughters, however. As it turns out, ben can also mean children in general, grandsons (or grandchildren), descendants, young people—even the offspring of livestock, like calves or foals.
The symbology of sonship centers around two things: (1) being the representative of his father, and (2) being his heir. The first is an expression of responsibility and authority, and the second is the measure of grace—of unmerited favor bestowed upon one simply because of a relationship that exists. A representative is an ambassador, one who speaks on behalf of someone greater than himself—whether a father, a family, a king, or a country. An heir is entrusted with the family fortune—he must guard it, protect it, manage it, and build upon it. So the son (in these symbolic terms) both gives and receives on behalf of the family. His advantages are balanced against the weight of his responsibilities.
The scope of the son’s role is proportionate to the wealth or power of his father. So the son of a king, by definition, has a bigger job to do (and a bigger inheritance to receive) than does the son of a pauper. It should go without saying, then, that being the Son of God implies the most significant and challenging role imaginable. This One would give more—and receive more—than any other son. And the impact upon those with whom He came into contact would be magnified accordingly. Thus Yahshua came to represent His “Father” Yahweh before the human race. Because His Father was the infinite Creator of the universe, Yahshua was called upon to give more than anyone else ever has—or could. But His inheritance as the Son of God is unsurpassed as well—something that will become evident when He returns to reign in glory forever.
The Son as Representative
Let us, then, begin our study of sonship with a look at what it means to be a representative of one’s father. To “represent” is to re-present—that is, to stand or act in place of someone, to speak or act as a delegated authority, or to portray or depict something or someone—serve as a likeness. Symbolically, sons are like their fathers: they demonstrate to the world through their actions and attitudes what their fathers are like—whether they intend to or not. (I’m speaking in broad conceptual terms, of course. There are always exceptions, and people make their own choices in this life.)
To give us a feel for the father-son relationship, Solomon writes, “Unless Yahweh builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. Unless Yahweh guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows, for so He gives His beloved sleep. Behold, children [Hebrew: ben] are a heritage from Yahweh, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. They shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127) It may not seem like it, but that’s all one subject: Yahweh (our Father) sees His “children,” His believers, in the same way any father sees his children—as an extension of His own presence in the world—His representatives. Yahweh, to some extent, “guards the city” through the agency of His children.
What does it mean to “speak” with one’s enemies? The Hebrew verb here is dabar: to declare, converse, command, promise, warn, or even threaten. The “sons” here are not seen advancing their own agenda, but rather that of their father. They are presented as extensions of his influence, projections of his power. But what is Solomon really talking about here? I believe that it is that our children tend to carry the attitudes and character traits they saw in their parents out into the world with them. My own grown children are as different as night and day, yet they all work hard, focus on solving real problems for their clients and colleagues (instead of merely trying to “look good”), and refuse to take short cuts or play political head games. I like to think they got some of that from me.
Very few of us can claim to be the children of great and powerful men. Solomon himself, of course, was the exception—the son and heir of Israel’s greatest king, David, and the father of kings in his own right. You and I, not so much. The Son of God, however, would be the ultimate example of someone “speaking with His Father’s enemies” with authority and power. Woe to the one who refuses to hear (in the Hebrew “shama” sense—listen attentively, understand, heed, and obey) the words of Yahshua.
And note that he speaks of a “quiver full” of sons—in other words, not just of Yahshua (God’s Firstborn, so to speak), but also of all of us who follow in His footsteps. We too are children of God (though not in precisely the same way, of course); we too have the mandate and authority (not to mention the duty) of defending His word and contending for His truth in our societies. “The gate” is like city hall, the courtroom, or the capitol. It is where the issues of the day are discussed and deliberated. The point is that we believers are to make our voices heard in our societies—not expressing our own opinions, however, but rather those of our Father, Yahweh, the One whom we represent before the world. We are instructed to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) And “Confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.” (Leviticus 19:17 NLT)
That’s not to say we are guaranteed to prevail or succeed in our efforts to present God’s truth to the world. In fact, God has told us that for the most part, they won’t listen to us. Yahweh told Isaiah, “Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand. Keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10) And He told Jeremiah, “Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have even sent to you all My servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them. Yet they did not obey Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers. Therefore you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not obey you. You shall also call to them, but they will not answer you.” (Jeremiah 7:25-27) And Christ told His disciples as he sent them out, “Whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” (Mark 6:11) Speaking God’s truth is our job. Achieving success is not.
The church of the next-to-last days (the age in which we now live), that of Philadelphia, was told, “See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” (Revelation 3:8) The good news is that our witness won’t be completely silenced in the world before our redeemer comes for us (see verse 10). But alas, we’re told not to expect to achieve anything like political ascendency or worldwide acceptance of God’s word in our lifetimes. We have only a little power and influence. “Onward Christian Soldiers” isn’t God’s idea—it’s man’s.
Indeed, the Great Tribulation is described as “a time, times, and half a time [i.e., three and a half schematic “years”]… when the power of the holy people [Israel and post-rapture neo-Christians] has been completely shattered.” (Daniel 12:7) Yet even in these dark days, God will not leave Himself without “sons to speak with His enemies in the gate.” We are told of two sealed witnesses who will appear for forty-two months (essentially those same three and a half years of which Daniel was informed) as Yahweh’s representatives: “I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth…. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.” (Revelation 11:3) They are apparently “speaking” the only language a universally corrupt and hopelessly unrepentant world still understands at this point: wrath.
The message a father’s sons communicate to the world depends on the character of that father. The good news: “Blessed is everyone who fears Yahweh, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you. Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house, your children [ben: sons] like olive plants all around your table. Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears Yahweh.” (Psalm 128:1-4) “Olive plants” are the source of olive oil. If we may allow the symbols to speak for themselves, you’ll recall that olive oil is symbolic in scripture for the Holy Spirit—the One who illuminates and anoints our lives. So, the man who honors Yahweh will see his reverence mirrored in the lives of his children. I can think of no sweeter blessing. As John wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” (III John 4)
The bad news is that there is a flip side to this: it is a two-way street. The Second Commandment (the one that instructs us not to make or worship idols) notes, “For I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20:5-6) Those who “hate Me,” in context, are those who bow down to and serve images of things found in the heavens, on the earth, or in the sea, instead of Yahweh. His point here is that our proclivities for the worship of false gods, whether obvious or subtle, will likely be picked up and emulated by our children. If we worship false gods (like power, sex, or money, for example), then so will our kids, in all likelihood—and this pattern can be repeated for generations on end.
In fact, your parentage can often be determined (in spiritual terms, anyway) by observing what you do and how you think—the things that motivate you. Yahshua looked at the pride and greed of the Pharisees and concluded: “You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44) As I said, the child represents his father—if the father is a liar, the sons will lie as well; if the one you follow is a murderer, you will likely harbor murderous thoughts in your own heart.
We saw above how the “power of the holy people will be completely shattered” during the Great Tribulation. In such times, the “sons” can find themselves unable to represent their father. They may not even remember who he is. This concept is not without precedent in scripture. Yahweh Himself arranged to let Israel languish in Egypt for four hundred years, just so they (and we) would have a clear picture of what deliverance is all about. After having prepared Moses for eighty years to lead Israel, Yahweh sent him to Egypt with these instructions: “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says Yahweh: Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.’” (Exodus 4:22-23) That is what is known as “speaking with your enemy at the gate.” Pharaoh didn’t have any idea who Israel’s “Father” was—yet—but he was about to find out, the hard way.
Note several things about this. (1) This happened before any of the ten plagues had been pronounced or delivered. Yahweh revealed the bottom line right at the beginning, and the terms were never changed. (2) Yahweh was declaring that a personal relationship existed between Himself and an entire nation—something that had been promised and prophesied, but never demonstrated on a national scale before this time. (3) By identifying Israel as His “firstborn,” Yahweh was hinting that He would have other children (read: the church). But among nations, Israel was to be preeminent and would inherit the double portion of His blessings. (4) With Yahweh, the punishment always fits the crime. So His promise to slay Pharaoh’s firstborn son if he did not free Israel was actually a declaration that enslaving someone was tantamount to killing them—of crushing their souls. Yahshua would later say, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) Apparently, the converse it true as well: cursed are the merciless. (5) The Israelites were being forced to serve Pharaoh, but God demanded that they be freed to serve Him. Thus while holding someone in servitude against their will is a crime, serving one’s own father is right and proper, for in light of the coming inheritance, he is in fact working on his own behalf. And (6) in another context, Yahshua the Messiah is Yahweh’s firstborn son. Therefore, he who would “use” Christ for his own personal gain (as so many “religious professionals” do) is risking judgment: as with Pharaoh, repentance is in order. Let the Messiah “go” to speak for Himself.
Most of us are familiar with the story of heroic Gideon, and how he (by following Yahweh’s instructions) defeated a huge Midianite invasion force with only three hundred men. But few of us remember what came before these exploits, or what followed. Both stories shed light on how a son might represent his father.
Gideon’s father, Joash, is a hard one to figure out. As we read Judges 6, we get the distinct impression that Gideon had been taught all about Yahweh’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt. As he talks with an angel, Gideon bemoans the fact that Yahweh, the God who did such mighty works in generations past, has apparently left Israel to its fate, for Midianite raiders now infest the Land of Promise. But in addition to teaching his son about Yahweh’s great deliverance, Joash also maintained an altar to the Canaanite god Ba’al on his property. It’s spiritual schizophrenia, like the operator of a brothel teaching Sunday school. Apparently, the entire community engaged in pagan worship practice there.
The angel gave Gideon a miraculous sign authenticating his credentials, and later that evening, Yahweh Himself (i.e., a theophany) came to Gideon instructing him to tear down his father’s altar to Ba’al, build an altar to Yahweh in its place, cut down Joash’s Asherah pole, and use the wood to make a burnt offering of his father’s bull (a symbol, you’ll recall, of man-made religion—the best man has to offer, going up in smoke before God). Gideon complied that very night.
The next day, the horrified neighbors saw that their god had been desecrated: “And when the men of the city arose early in the morning, there was the altar of Baal, torn down; and the wooden image that was beside it was cut down, and the second bull was being offered on the altar which had been built. So they said to one another, ‘Who has done this thing?’ And when they had inquired and asked, they said, ‘Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.’” I’ve noticed that even today, people who tear down false gods still face irrational antagonism. “Then the men of the city said to Joash, ‘Bring out your son, that he may die, because he has torn down the altar of Baal, and because he has cut down the wooden image that was beside it.’”
We aren’t told whether Joash’s reaction was out of renewed reverence for Yahweh or simply out of the desire to protect his son. But his response was perfect: “But Joash said to all who stood against him, ‘Would you plead for Baal? Would you save him? Let the one who would plead for him be put to death by morning! If he is a god, let him plead for himself, because his altar has been torn down!’” (Judges 6:28-31) His argument was pretty much the same as that put forth by Elijah as he dueled the four hundred and fifty priests of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel half a millennium later (see I Kings 18): let your god defend himself, as mine does—if he’s real, he doesn’t need your help, and if he does need your help, then he isn’t really god.
The contemporary comparison that leaps to mind is Muslims who get incensed and offended whenever they perceive a slight against their god Allah or his “prophet” Muhammad. If somebody draws a cartoon of him, for example, they are ready to lop off heads. But if Allah were really deity, he should be able to defend his own honor, in both this life and the next. He wouldn’t need legions of murderous thugs to do his bidding. Christians, meanwhile, must walk a fine line between trusting Yahweh to exercise vengeance against His own enemies—in His own time—and defending ourselves against physical assaults.
Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between acts of blasphemy and attacks against believers. Christ authorized us to carry weapons for physical self-defense (see Luke 22:36). But at the same time, murder was prohibited (Exodus 20:13). And Christ made the defense of our faith totally counterintuitive: “I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust…. You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:44-45, 48)
The reason we Christians are to bless people (when cursing them might seem a more appropriate response) is that we are representatives of our Father, Yahweh—and that’s what He does. We are to be “perfect” (Greek: teleios), that is, mature or fully grown, complete and lacking nothing in the areas of integrity, virtue, and knowledge. Basically, God is saying that lashing out at every perceived slight (or threat) is childish and immature: we His children are expected to grow up and trust God. Satan, of course, does not play by these rules. His followers act like spoiled three-year-olds: taking what they want and whining when they don’t get their way.
Part of becoming “perfect,” mature in the ways of God, is learning not to be overly impressed with our own successes—to respond with humility and thanksgiving, not arrogance and pride. In the wake of Gideon’s victories, his neighbors (the same people who had once wanted to stone him for insulting Ba’al) wanted to make him their king: “Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.’ But Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; Yahweh shall rule over you.’” (Judges 8:22-23) Gideon’s response was just as the Law of Moses had provided: Israel’s “king” was to be Yahweh Himself—they needed no ruler beyond what was written in the Torah.
I wish I could tell you that “they all lived happily ever after, honoring Yahweh and keeping His commandments.” But I can’t. “So it was, as soon as Gideon was dead, that the children of Israel again played the harlot with the Baals, and made Baal-Berith their god. Thus the children of Israel did not remember Yahweh their God, who had delivered them from the hands of all their enemies on every side; nor did they show kindness to the house of Gideon in accordance with the good he had done for Israel.” (Judges 8:33-35) Gideon meant well, but he made some disastrous blunders along the way. Although he didn’t want to rule as king, he couldn’t resist making himself rich from the spoils of war, acquiring many wives and concubines and fathering seventy sons. (That is, when resisting the “gods” of power, sex, and money, Gideon batted only one for three.)
The whole thing ended in tragedy when Abimelech, the son of Gideon’s concubine—refused to honor his father’s wishes and made a move to become king—murdering all (but one) of the others to achieve his goal. The one who escaped (Jotham, Gideon’s youngest) prophesied the death of Abimelech and his supporters, and it all came to pass three years later, just as he had predicted. Jotham, then, represented his father Gideon, while Abimelech betrayed him. Is that not the same spiritual choice all of us must make? Yahweh is our Father, our Creator. Will we represent Him before the world, or exalt ourselves instead?
Speaking of self-exaltation, let us look at a couple of parables Yahshua told to (and about) His antagonists, the chief priests and Pharisees—those who claimed to represent Yahweh before the people, but who were actually endorsing (and profiting from) their own lofty positions, teaching as doctrine not the Torah, but their own derivative manmade rules and traditions designed to keep folks in bondage. This conversation came in response to their complaint that Yahshua had no authority to teach as He did—at least not from them, which was the only thing that counted in their eyes. (There was also that little matter of His turning over the tables of the money changers and driving them out of the temple with a whip.) They figured that if they could get Him to claim heavenly authority, they could charge Him with blasphemy and maybe get Him stoned to death. Both parables, as it turns out, have to do with sons and their relationships with their fathers.
First, he asked them, “What do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” The answer was obvious and undeniable. “They said to Him, ‘The first.’” Right. It’s what you do, not just what you say. “Jesus said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you….” In other words, “You guys are the lying son who only pretends to be working in God’s vineyard, but who is actually working for his own interests, pride, and profit.”
The evidence? “For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.’” (Matthew 21:28-32) Repentant “sinners,” who believed and took to heart the message that John the Baptist and Yahshua had been preaching, actually were doing God’s will. The “work of God,” as Yahshua explained elsewhere, was to believe in—trust and rely upon—Him whom He had sent—Yahshua Himself. The work of God wasn’t to invent and enforce pointless religious rules designed to make you appear pious and upright before the unwashed masses.
They apparently weren’t sufficiently chastised at this point, so He continued: “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country….” The “vineyard” here is Israel—designed to be a spiritual microcosm of all mankind, a place where God’s love could grow and flourish. Yahweh had delivered her from bondage and given her the Torah—all the defense the nation needed, if only they had heeded it. But Israel’s endemic apostasy had made Yahweh unwelcome. They therefore hadn’t heard a word from God for four hundred years, and Israel had been slapped like a hockey puck from one cruel master to the next—from the Babylonians, to the Persians, to the Greeks, to the Romans—while Yahweh waited in the “far country” of heaven until the appointed time for their redemption had come.
“Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit.” The “fruit” the Landowner (Yahweh) was looking for was love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (See Galatians 5:22.) The “servants” were the prophets of Israel. “And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’” You’d think so, wouldn’t you? “But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him….” The chief priests and Pharisees didn’t yet understand that they were the evil vinedressers in the parable—the ones who (as a class) had slain and persecuted the prophets from Isaiah to Malachi—and now John the Baptist—because they were uncomfortable with their message: repent! And they certainly didn’t understand that the “son and heir” was the one they themselves were about to crucify in their jealous rage—Yahshua Himself.
Nor (apparently) did they have an inkling (yet) that the “owner of the vineyard” was Yahweh, the God they were pretending to serve. So Christ demanded that they draw the only possible conclusion: “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” Again, it was obvious, and again, they identified themselves as the culprits and prescribed their own punishment. “They said to Him, ‘He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons….’”
The chief priests and Pharisees were supposed to be the keepers of Yahweh’s scriptures—the ones you could rely on to “rightly divide the word of truth.” But they had no clue what Yahweh’s symbols meant. So “Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was Yahweh’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Matthew 21:33-42) He was quoting from Psalm 118:22-23. This “cornerstone,” the Rock with which everything must align, was Yahweh’s Messiah—the very “Son” whom the evil vinedressers would soon “cast out of the vineyard and kill,” and not coincidentally, the One standing before them telling them the uncomfortable truth about themselves.
In context, Psalm 118 is worth a closer look, for it is prophetic of the Messiah, the Son of Yahweh—whom it actually names: twice! Let us review a few other telling verses from this remarkable psalm. The Psalmist (probably David, though we aren’t told) is speaking for Israel (see verse 2), who is in turn representing the entire house of faith. He says, “All nations surrounded me, but in the name of Yahweh I will destroy them. They surrounded me, yes, they surrounded me. But in the name of Yahweh I will destroy them. They surrounded me like bees. They were quenched like a fire of thorns. For in the name of Yahweh I will destroy them. You pushed me violently, that I might fall, but Yahweh helped me. Yahweh is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation.” (Psalm 118:10-14) Both Israel and the true church have been attacked by the godless nations who surround them. Those who “swarm like bees” around us are like the evil vinedressers in Yahshua’s parable. What will happen to them?
In English, it sounds as if the believers who are being attacked will fight back and “destroy” his enemies through force and warfare—with a little help from God. But that’s not really what the Hebrew text is saying at all. The word translated “destroy” (Hebrew: mool, used twice in these verses) is actually the verb meaning “to circumcise.” Since there are a broad range of Hebrew words that mean destroy, defeat, or annihilate, we must ask ourselves why the Psalmist chose this particular word. The implication here is that the aggressors are to be “cut off and set apart” from the lives of God’s faithful—not physically attacked exactly (not by us, anyway), but rather given no further opportunity to influence or corrupt us. It is through Yahweh’s strength alone that we are able to accomplish this separation and isolation from a violent and hateful world. Although their anger burns hot against us, it turns out that it isn’t much of a blaze, as these things go—their schemes are a sputtering fire of spindly thorns, not an oak-log inferno—they’re something God can put out with a squirt gun.
A few verses later, the Psalmist writes, “I will praise You, for You have answered me, and have become my salvation.” (Psalm 118:21) That’s twice in one psalm that he has informed us that Yahweh has become our salvation. We might have expected him to say that Yahweh is our salvation, but what could he mean by phrasing it “has become”? It hints that a transformation or unprecedented manifestation on God’s part is in view—some mode of deliverance that was not previously apparent. The word translated “salvation,” it turns out, is the Hebrew yâshuw`ah or yeshuah. It is phonetically indistinguishable (though spelled differently) from the Messiah’s given name, Yahshua—the one the world knows as Jesus. He’s saying Yahweh has become Yahshua! That is, God Himself has appeared among us as Jesus of Nazareth—who is now our salvation, our strength, and our reason for rejoicing.
It is no coincidence that the very next words in the psalm are “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was Yahweh’s doing. It is marvelous in our eyes.” (Psalm 118:22-23) These were the words with which Yahshua confronted the Pharisees when they questioned the source of His authority. His point was that the One whom Yahweh “has become” was now the Chief Cornerstone, anointed by God but rejected by the world—the evil vinedressers of Yahshua’s parable, whom even the Pharisees admitted should be destroyed and cast out of the vineyard.
It’s amazing (not really—God planned it) how Psalm 118 and Matthew 21 (where the “vineyard” parable was recorded) dovetail into each other. Without missing a beat, the psalmist goes on to say: “This is the day Yahweh has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, I pray, O Yahweh. O Yahweh, I pray, send now prosperity. Blessed is he who comes in the name of Yahweh! We have blessed you from the house of Yahweh. God is Yahweh, and He has given us light. Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will praise You. You are my God, I will exalt You.” (Psalm 118:24-28)
What day (in particular) had Yahweh made? Matthew 21 begins by recounting Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem—itself a fulfillment of the command to bring the Passover lamb into the household of Israel on the tenth day of the month of Nisan (see Exodus 12:3). Yahshua had then gone to the temple and cleansed it—for the second time in His short career. When the Psalmist beseeches God to “Save now, I pray,” he was using the same language sung by the joyous throng on Palm Monday: “Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of Yahweh! Hosanna in the highest!’ And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, ‘Who is this?’ So the multitudes said, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.’” (Matthew 21:9-11) “Hosanna” is the Aramaic equivalent (filtered through Greek) of what the Psalmist had said in Hebrew, where “save” is yasha, and “pray or beseech now” is annah.
The very next day, the Pharisees and chief priests challenged His authority—precipitating the parables we’ve been discussing. And three days after that, on Passover (Nisan 14), those same religious big shots succeeded in getting the Romans to crucify Yahshua. This, ironically enough, proved Him to be the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” just as John the Baptist had been saying all along, in accordance with the requirements of the Torah.
Only then, when they had murdered the Son of God (i.e., the Heir of the “Landowner”) did it become apparent who they were and what they had done. As the parable had phrased it: “They said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.” That is exactly what they were trying to do—seize the inheritance that rightfully belonged to the Messiah. So Yahshua’s stinging rebuke (in light of what they were about to do) was perfectly appropriate. “‘Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.’” Compare this colorful description to the prophet Daniel’s take on Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2:35 and 45. The imagery—and the objective—are the same. It is evident that there were bigger fish to fry here than just a few priests and Pharisees. Anyone who attacks the Son is also attacking the Father whom He represents. “Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet.” (Matthew 21:43-45)
Was the parable prophetic? Were its threats accurate (proving that Yahshua was indeed representing His Father Yahweh when He went to Calvary)? History shows that 37 years after the crucifixion, the “kingdom of God” was taken from the chief priests—when the Romans besieged Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, and dismantled the priesthood. Then, over the century following the passion, the Pharisees seized the power that had been wielded by the corrupt priesthood. They finally consolidated their power under the influential Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph, who was responsible for severing Christianity from Judaism. Akiba declared the charismatic warlord Simon ben Kosiba (a.k.a. bar Kochba) to be the Messiah when he revolted against Rome in 133, a century after the passion. At this point the Romans under Hadrian came back to finish the job, scattering Israel’s remnants to the four winds. By 135, they had emptied the Land, salted its fields to make them barren, killed both Akiba and bar Kochba, and renamed the place Palestina—a purposely offensive epithet that stuck until 1948.
Why the delay? Why did Yahweh take so long to remove the Pharisees from power? Because of the second half of the prophecy: His purpose was to give the kingdom “to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” That’s the church, in case you missed it. By the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, about a third of Israel had become Christians; the seed had been planted and watered. And by 135, the church (now separated from Judaism through the machinations of Rabbi Akiba) had gained a firm foothold in the gentile world—though it would still be sporadically persecuted for another two centuries.
Israel, meanwhile would experience what Hosea had prophesied: “Come, and let us return to Yahweh. For He has torn, but He will heal us. He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days [read: two thousand years—see II Peter 3:8] He will revive us. On the third day [the millennium following the first two] He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of Yahweh. His going forth is established as the morning. He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.” (Hosea 6:1-3)
Don’t look now, but Israel’s stint in God’s “penalty box” is almost over. By 2033 (precisely two “days” after Christ’s passion) Israel will have returned to Yahweh, healed, revived, raised up, and ready to pursue the knowledge of Yahweh from that point on, forevermore. Welcome back, my brothers.
The Son as Heir
Being His Father’s representative among us compelled Yahshua to give everything on our behalf—up to and including His very life as a mortal human being—because it was His Father’s will and purpose. Fulfilling His assigned role as “the Lamb of God” is what gave Him the power to “take away the sin of the world.”
But as I said, the sonship symbol involves give and take, blessing and sacrifice, inheritance and exposure. Yahshua’s first advent required that He come as the “Lamb of God.” The next time we see Him, it will be as the “Lion of the Tribe of Judah,” that is, in authority, majesty, and undisputed power—and not just in Israel, but throughout the entire world.
It will be a whole new dispensation. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds, who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” (Hebrews 1:1-4)
I can hardly believe that’s all one sentence—there’s so much there. Let’s break it down. (1) Although salvation—the reconciliation of fallen man with his Holy Creator—has always come by grace through faith, God’s revelation of His plan has been unfolding little by little over the centuries, in what are known as “dispensations” (that is, God dispensing or distributing the details of His Plan), of which there are seven phases. Each one grows out of, and builds upon, the one that precedes it: innocence (the Garden experience until Adam’s fall); conscience (from the fall to the flood); human government (from Noah to Abraham; promise (from Abraham to Moses); law or instruction (from Moses to Christ); grace (the church age); and the kingdom (from Yahshua’s return through the Millennium).
(2) We are now in the sixth dispensation (the so-called “church age”), in which the Son of God, having fulfilled the Law by representing His Father to the point of suffering death on the cross, has now assumed His rightful place “at the right hand of God” in heaven. This is not to say Yahweh and Yahshua are two separate “gods,” of course. God is One. The father/son metaphor is used for our edification and understanding. In reality, Yahshua is a diminished manifestation of Yahweh (one of several), introduced so that we might experience God’s true character, if not yet His full glory. (See Volume 1, Chapter 2 of this work.)
(3) His work as Yahweh’s “representative” now complete, Yahshua is poised to receive His rightful inheritance—the glory of the unrestrained divine authority due to the Creator of the universe, but displayed at last in the presence of the object of God’s love: us.
(4) Angels (heavenly spirit messengers) had always played a part in Israel’s communication with Yahweh, and the Hebrews were (as they should have been) quite impressed with their power and presence. But Christ, as Yahweh’s firstborn Son and heir, is in every way infinitely superior to God’s created angels. (By the way, the “Firstborn” metaphor is so rich and complex, I’d like to defer discussion of this subject to a separate chapter.)
If Yahshua the Messiah is Yahweh’s Son and heir, we who follow and trust Him are perfectly justified in rejoicing with Him in anticipation of His final advent—something so close now, we can feel it in our bones. But in one of the more counterintuitive aspects of God’s plan, we are told that we are to share in that awesome inheritance. If you ask me, it would have been quite sufficient to have been forgiven for my sins and allowed to live in the presence of my Savior, whether for time or eternity. That alone would have been more that I had a right to ask, or even hope for. But Paul assures us that our baseline forgiveness is only the beginning:
“We are debtors—[but] not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” This is basically the same thing Yahshua told Nicodemus in John 3: we must be born from above, made alive in and through the indwelling Holy Spirit, if we wish to see the Kingdom of God. “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father….’” In other words, our salvation through Christ’s blood changed the nature of our relationship with God, but not as we may have expected. Yes, we are no longer strangers, but it’s not as if we’ve merely been hired to do a job (or bought as slaves), either, as appreciated as that might have been. We are not merely God’s associates or enthusiasts. Rather, we have been adopted into Yahweh’s family: we are now His children! We get to call Him “Daddy.”
Having spent time in both worlds, I’ve gained a little perspective on this over the years. I’ve run my own small business, hiring employees as needed to enable me to better meet the needs of my clients. I’ve also adopted sons and daughters. And (not surprisingly) the two kinds of relationships are completely different.
My employees were hired for their abilities or potential—for the service they could render, both to me and the clients who depended on me. They were there to help me turn a profit—to benefit the company, such as it was. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement. The idea was, if the company (and I) prospered, so would they. At the same time, they had an opportunity to learn from my decades of experience in the business. I liked them; they were my friends, and I theirs. But it was always understood that I could fire them (or lay them off) if I found it necessary—if they became part of the problem instead of part of the solution.
Meanwhile, my wife and I adopted nine of our eleven children. We adopted them not for what they could do for us, but because of what we could (potentially) do for them—give them a safe, loving home. There were no “performance requirements” (at least not on their part) as a condition of their being part of the family. We had no “escape clause.” There were no guarantees, only hope, love, faith, and commitment—all of which got tested on occasion. A couple of them “blew up in our faces.” Three of them have succumbed to their physical handicaps. One of our sons is a pastor; another is in prison. Like I said, we were given no guarantees. That being said, we got as much out of it as the kids did.
In the same way, our relationship with God is not a condition-based contract, an Employer-employee sort of thing, in which He “fires us” if we fail to perform up to His standards (which is a good thing, since none of us actually do). It is, rather, like being adopted as His children: He is our Heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit who indwells us is (so to speak) our Heavenly Mother. Paul concludes, “The Spirit Himself [Greek: autos—an emphatic gender-neutral personal pronoun] bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Romans 8:12-17)
That’s a mind-blowing concept. Yahshua the Messiah, the “only begotten” Son of God, is Yahweh’s natural heir—the king of glory, and soon to be revealed on Earth as such. But since we believers have been adopted by God, we share in Yahshua’s inheritance. But there is a caveat. Paul adds the condition: “if we suffer with Him.” Again, the English can be a little misleading here. The Greek word translated “suffer” doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t actually co-heirs with Christ if we’re lucky (or blessed) enough to avoid overt, physical persecution for our faith—as I have for the most part. The word is sumpascho, meaning (besides literal suffering) to sympathize or empathize, to experience pain together with someone.
It is another way of expressing the fact that as God’s sons/children, we are to represent Him before our fellow man—even if they are antagonistic toward our Father. The difference between Christ and us is that He, as Yahweh’s “only begotten Son” (who was “with God, and was God” from the beginning—see John 1:1-4) represented Him before He received His inheritance. We, on the other hand, received the promise of our co-inheritance as God’s children the moment we were adopted, through our new birth “from above” in the Holy Spirit. Of necessity, then, the duty and privilege of representing our Heavenly Father to the world came in response to our adoption as sons of God—we don’t “suffer with Him” in order to achieve that status.
If our relationship with God as adopted children—legal heirs—is so radically different than that of employees or servants (those who must work to earn their wages), why do the apostles invariably introduce themselves as “bondservants” of Christ? How can a son also be a slave? It’s all a matter of position and promise—and timing. Paul (who called himself a “bondservant of God”) explains, sort of: “Now I say that the heir, as long as he is a child, does not differ at all from a slave, though he is master of all, but is under guardians and stewards until the time appointed by the father….” This is the position in which we as believers find ourselves. We are children of God, and therefore heirs, but we must labor in this world, seemingly as “slaves,” as we grow in grace and study to learn what we can about our Father’s business. This condition will persist until we “graduate,” when we are given our immortal resurrection bodies, at which point we will become in reality what we were destined to be: perfect, mature, and complete in Christ. We will have been separated at last from our sin nature. (This separation from our sin is the whole point of the symbolic rite of circumcision, by the way.) In a very real sense, the essence of our “inheritance” is sinlessness in the presence of God.
Unfortunately, Paul mixes his metaphors at this point, making his train of thought a little hard to follow. He now speaks of “children” as potential believers—those who have not yet been adopted into God’s family. These immature souls are still in bondage to sin—whether revealed by their inability to keep the requirements of the Torah or even flawlessly follow their own consciences. “Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons….”
Christ’s sacrifice—established in Eden (see Genesis 3:21), demonstrated at the flood (see Genesis 6:8, 7:1, 23), and prophesied a hundred ways in the Torah—is the mechanism God has ordained for our redemption. Our acceptance of—our trust in—this sacrificial act is what brings us into Yahweh’s family as adopted children. But then (as he intimated above) we will remain “children” under tutors and stewards (albeit now lawful co-heirs with Christ) until we (like Him) have shed our mortal shells. “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Galatians 4:1-7) We are no longer slaves to sin, but have rather become sons of God and heirs with Christ of His glory.
Surprisingly (perhaps) this new relationship with our Father is not as distant as the vast dichotomy between His significance and ours might suggest. Why? Because we are now, for all intents and purposes, brothers and sisters of Yahweh’s firstborn Son and heir, Yahshua—and our close relationship with Him makes us all one big happy family. So we are enabled to address the Father in the most intimate of terms, as “Abba,” “Papa,” or “Daddy.” We may “only” be adopted children, but this is not just some business transaction; it’s no mere legal arrangement—it’s an outpouring of love that has neither precedent nor peer in all of human experience.
For a relationship to be real, there has to be a two-way connection. And for an heir to be legitimate (in the scriptural sense), he has to be related—connected, linked—to the father in some way that’s more significant than a mere agreement between two unrelated parties. Yahweh made sure we understood the difference in this scene: “But Abram said, ‘Lord Yahweh, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ Then Abram said, ‘Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!’ And behold, the word of Yahweh came to him, saying, ‘This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir….’”
I have no doubt that Abram was fond of young Eliezer, and that the feeling was mutual. Abram may have “loved him like a son.” But he was not his son: he may have been “in his house,” but he was not “of his house,” if you can perceive the distinction. Yahweh was about to show Abram the significance of having a relationship with one’s heir: “Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed in Yahweh, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:2-6)
As it would transpire, this belief was what defined Abram as a “child of God.” It alone established the relationship between the man and his Maker. And it would in turn be this same sort of belief—faith, reliance, and trust in the promised but as yet unseen—that identifies us as God’s children as well. We may be “adopted” into God’s family, but that reality per se is not what forges the relationship between us. After all, Christ died (and rose again) for all mankind—He has, then, done what He can to adopt everyone who wants to be adopted. But only we who trust in the efficacy of His sacrifice actually share a relationship with Him—we alone are “accounted as righteous” for our faith, just as Abram was.
A cursory reading of Genesis 15 might lead one to conclude that the biological link between Abram (soon to be renamed Abraham) and his son was that which would create the requisite relationship. But as the familiar story unfolded, it was not Abraham’s firstborn, Ishmael, who was to be the promised heir, but rather Isaac, the son of Abraham with his legitimate wife, Sarah. The roles they were playing in God’s drama were as follows: Abraham played the part of Yahweh, Creator; Sarah acted out the role of the Holy Spirit—the bringer of eternal life; Hagar (Sarah’s Egyptian handmaiden, the mother of Ishmael) was “the world” in this performance; Ishmael (thus “son of the world”) represents those who are created by God (in other words, everybody) but who at the same time do not have or want the Holy Spirit within them. Finally, Isaac, the child of promise, acts out the role of those who are both created by Yahweh and made spiritually alive through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
This is the way it played out in the scriptural narrative: “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing. Therefore she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac.’” Yes, the dying world ridicules those who have life within them, partly out of pride, partly out of jealousy, partly out of abysmal ignorance. They mock what they do not understand. (It is therefore pointless—and wrong—to hate them for being so hateful.)
In an ironic twist, Yahweh Himself is utterly chagrinned to see the “sons of the world” cast out, for He doesn’t want anyone to perish—even if they’re lost, even if they’re evil. As long as life persists, God longs for our repentance. So Abraham plays his part to perfection: “And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.” (Genesis 21:9-13) In the end, only those made alive by the Holy Spirit (whose symbolic role here is played by Sarah) will dwell before God. Yahweh is not happy that the world and its children are being cast out of His presence, but our free will (His primary gift to us) makes the eventual separation of life from death inevitable. In the meantime, He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.
Paul offers commentary on the whole scene: “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh [Ishmael] then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now.” Believers can expect to be persecuted in this world by people who are not born from above in Yahweh’s Holy Spirit. “Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.’ So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.” (Galatians 4:28-31) Why are we “children of promise,” heirs of God as Isaac was of Abraham? It is because of the relationship we enjoy with our Father Yahweh through Yahshua the Messiah and our subsequent indwelling with God’s Spirit. And how was that relationship formed? The same way Abraham’s was with God—through faith in His promises. Remember, the work of God is to believe in the One whom He has sent (see John 6:29). If the Holy Spirit is our “heavenly mother” in symbolic terms, then our belief is the “labor” through which we are born to her.
I, for one, am extremely grateful that the price of fellowship with God is not sinless perfection (at least not on my part). If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll take Abraham down off the perfection-pedestal on which we tend to put him. As far as scripture tells us, the beloved patriarch screwed up all the time. He didn’t leave home as instructed and move to the Promised Land until decades later, when his father died; and when he finally made his move, he took Lot with him—against Yahweh’s explicit instructions. He didn’t stay there in the Land, but wandered off to Egypt for a time, where he lied about his relationship with his wife Sarah to protect his own sorry assets. He didn’t wait on God for a son with Sarah, but took that disastrous short cut with Hagar.
And even when Abraham isn’t getting it wrong, he is usually seen as a bystander in his own story, not an active participant. The only thing that he ever did right (as far as we’re told) was to believe that God would deliver on His promise to “make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2-3) And much later, “I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son.” (Genesis 18:10) He is remembered, of course, for demonstrating his faith by being willing to sacrifice the child of promise, Isaac, as a burnt offering—fully convinced that because his son was the child of promise, that Yahweh could and would resurrect him from the dead.
The writer to the Hebrews summarizes Abraham’s faith: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” After a whole lot of foot dragging. “By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God…. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:8-10, 16) The foundation of the original promise—that God would make of Abraham a “great nation”—didn’t look too promising for the first couple of generations. His little family would have to live for some time as pilgrims and foreigners within the land Yahweh swore He had given them.
Don’t look now, but Canaan for the Israelites is a picture of Planet Earth for the rest of God’s children: it may be our inheritance, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a struggle to live here. We too live as pilgrims and foreigners in our own “land.” But we know (through faith) that a “heavenly country” awaits us, if we will but take our God at His word. Part of having faith in an eternal God is knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that He always keeps His word, even if we don’t live long enough to see it fulfilled with mortal eyes.
After the lessons of captivity in Egypt (symbolic of bondage in the world), Israel would have to come back and take their inheritance (the Promised Land) by force—with God’s guidance. “For He remembered His holy promise, and Abraham His servant. He brought out His people with joy, His chosen ones with gladness. He gave them the lands of the Gentiles, and they inherited the labor of the nations, that they might observe His statutes and keep His laws. Praise Yahweh!” (Psalm 105:42-45) The Psalmist points out that the reason the nation of Israel was given the land of Canaan as an inheritance was so that they could—and would—“observe His statutes and keep His laws,” all of which point directly and unequivocally to the role of Yahshua the Messiah in the salvation of mankind.
Every struggle Israel endured is a reflection of what all of God’s children must face. Their experiences are our lessons. And in the same way, everything Yahweh did for, or gave to, Israel is a symbolic microcosm of what He wishes to provide for the whole human race, if only we’ll trust Him. As Paul put it, “It has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs of the same body and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:5-6)
With all this talk of the sons of God receiving inheritances in Earth and the heavenly city (i.e., the New Jerusalem), it may come as something of a shock when God introduces us to another of His counterintuitive concepts: there is something even better than “mansions in glory.”
The Torah presented the proposition like this: “Then Yahweh said to Aaron: “You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel. Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of meeting. Hereafter the children of Israel shall not come near the tabernacle of meeting, lest they bear sin and die. But the Levites shall perform the work of the tabernacle of meeting, and they [the Levites] shall bear their [the Israelites’] iniquity; it shall be a statute forever, throughout your generations, that among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance. For the tithes of the children of Israel, which they offer up as a heave offering to Yahweh, I have given to the Levites as an inheritance; therefore I have said to them, ‘Among the children of Israel they shall have no inheritance.’” (Numbers 18:20-24)
Like I said, it’s counterintuitive. What could be better than receiving an inheritance in the Promised Land? Why, getting no land at all, receiving nothing but the opportunity to live and labor in the very presence of God. Whether or not you eat will depend on the obedience of other people to do as Yahweh instructed, honoring Him with their tithes and offerings. Oh, and you get to “carry the sins” of these folks, too. Such a deal.
I’m being facetious, of course. It only sounds like a “raw deal” if you’re not comfortable in Yahweh’s presence, or if you’re not willing to trust Him to provide for you according to His promises. In truth, this is the very picture of living by faith—the everyday life of the ordinary believer. We must keep the metaphors in mind: in an agrarian society like early Israel, land was equivalent to wealth. It was what you needed to graze your cattle or sheep, plant an orchard or vineyard, or raise row crops like wheat. The wealth of landownership, however, was only potential: you still had to get up in the morning and work it—milk the cows, sow the seed, and prune the vines. That’s why having many sons was considered such a blessing, and why barrenness in a woman was seen as a curse.
Living by faith is an adventure. I was somewhat insulated from the concept for twenty years because I worked for somebody else. But then, for the next decade or so, I ran my own small business—just me and a few employees. It could have been either a source of unbelievable stress or an opportunity to rest in God’s grace. With a wife and eight or ten kids to feed (not to mention payroll to meet) the job could have eaten me alive. It always seemed like “feast or famine,” either too much work, or not enough. (It was probably an illusion, but that’s what it felt like.) It was only when I learned to trust in God, both to bring the business in, and then to help us execute the work and get paid for a job well done, that owning my own business became the blessing God meant it to be. As I came to see it, Yahweh was my “boss,” and seeing to it that we turned a profit (allowing us to keep a roof over our heads) was His job, not mine.
So the sons of Levi became a symbol of “working directly for God.” Instead of using human effort to parlay wealth (an inheritance of land) into prosperity, they trusted Yahweh to bless the labors of the other Israelites—who were then to pay a tithe (a tenth) of the increase back to the Levites. In a way, the Levites “paid up front” for the dubious privilege of receiving and relying upon tithes from Israel. The twelve tribes (that is, everyone but Levi, including Joseph’s doubled portion represented by Ephraim and Manasseh) each received, in effect, a piece of Levi’s rightful inheritance in the Land. From the start, each tribe got an “extra” 8.3% (Levi’s share), meaning their real offering amounted to only 1.7% of the increase.
But remember, Levi was instructed to “bear Israel’s iniquity” as part of their job description. Aside from the priests’ role (that is, the job of one family within the tribe of Levi) of offering up the sacrifices of Israel at the tabernacle, the Levites were also to feed the poor, the widows and orphans of Israel, out of the tithe. So they weren’t going to get rich on that extra 1.7%. Frankly, symbology aside, the system was as close to perfect as anything I’ve ever heard of. It leaves both socialists and capitalists looking like idiots in comparison. But it required reverence for Yahweh from everyone in the country.
So to recap, “The priests, the Levites—all the tribe of Levi—shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the offerings of Yahweh made by fire, and His portion. Therefore they shall have no inheritance among their brethren; Yahweh is their inheritance, as He said to them.” (Deuteronomy 18:1-2) And in case you were wondering, the system will be reinstituted during the Millennial Kingdom of Christ: “It shall be, in regard to [the Levites’] inheritance, that I am their inheritance. You shall give them no possession in Israel, for I am their possession.” (Ezekiel 44:28) Still perfect, after all these years.
Speaking of inheritances in Millennial Kingdom-age Israel, we are told: “Thus says the Lord Yahweh: ‘If the prince [the raptured/resurrected David, if I’m not mistaken (see Ezekiel 37:25)—a “prince” who will receive a huge swath of land—See Ezekiel 45:7-8 and 48:21-22] gives a gift of some of his inheritance to any of his sons, it shall belong to his sons; it is their possession by inheritance. But if he gives a gift of some of his inheritance to one of his servants, it shall be his until the year of liberty [that is, Jubilee], after which it shall return to the prince. But his inheritance shall belong to his sons; it shall become theirs….” The prophet Ezekiel goes into great detail describing the physical distribution of the Land of Israel during the Millennial Kingdom—Yahshua’s thousand-year earthly reign.
It’s going to be an “interesting” time. Two “races” of humans will inhabit the planet—(1) the mortals (those who survived the Tribulation and the separation of the sheep from the goats—and their offspring), and (2) the immortals (those, whether alive or dead at the time, who were raptured on the definitive Feast of Trumpets). Israel (under the rule of their Messiah-King, Yahshua) will be the world’s only superpower. And all thirteen tribes will once again be identified and given an inheritance in the Land, with the provision that Levi’s portion, as before, is Yahweh Himself—now manifested as the reigning King. (See The End of the Beginning, Chapter 27: “The Millennial Temple,” elsewhere on this website.)
The division of tribal lands is fascinating. Each tribe will get a horizontal slice of Israel, from the Mediterranean Sea to the nation’s eastern border. The Levites will live in a chunk of land carved out of the middle of Jerusalem, in which the new temple will stand. The other tribes’ inheritances will apparently be situated nearer or further from Jerusalem, depending on their historic reverence for God. (Dan, for instance, the perennial Israelite screw-up, is as far away from the action as you can get and still be in Israel. But Judah and Benjamin are right next to the Holy City.)
Fairness will be the order of the day. For example, “Moreover the prince shall not take any of the people’s inheritance by evicting them from their property; he shall provide an inheritance for his sons from his own property, so that none of My people may be scattered from his property.’” (Ezekiel 46:16-18) I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a breath of fresh air to me—the antithesis of how human governments usually operate in these last days. Israel will be the prototype for the whole Earth during the Kingdom age. So what a son inherits will no longer be stolen and given to others. And (initially, at least) every living soul will be a child of God.
The Son of God
Notwithstanding the fact that believers in scripture are often referred to as “sons of God” or “children of Yahweh,” it is understood that Yahshua of Nazareth was the Son of God in a singular and unique sense. He was not “adopted” into the family as we were, but rather is “the only begotten Son of God”—Immanuel: God in flesh, God with us.
It may seem strange to us, but Christ was rather reticent to identify Himself as “the Son of God” among non-believers. In “mixed company,” He was more likely to call Himself the “Son of Man” (a concept we’ll discuss shortly), the representative and heir of the whole human race—something that was also true. A primary reason for this, I believe, is that the mode, manner, and schedule of His sacrifice—His death, burial, and resurrection—were a matter of prophetic record. If He were to be stoned for blasphemy two weeks after His baptism and left for the crows to eat in Capernaum, instead of being crucified on Passover in Jerusalem, laid in a rich man’s borrowed tomb, and rising from the dead on the third day, then the Torah, Psalms, and Prophets would have been proven wrong. So at first, He held His true identity as the Son of God rather close to the vest.
Not that His real identity was any big secret to those in a position to know—like Satan, for instance. Immediately after His baptism (in which John had introduced Him to the world as the “Son of God”), “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If [or “Since”] You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’ But He answered and said, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God….”’” The adversary was under no illusions. He knew exactly who Yahshua was. His tactic was not to deny the fact, but to use Christ’s weakened human condition to tempt Him to take a self-serving short cut—to use His divine power on His own behalf, to further His own goals. We have to think really hard to see the problem here. This was the very definition of a slippery slope: Yahshua had come to seek and save those who were lost. His own needs—even legitimate ones—would have to take a back seat. Starting here.
“Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: “He shall give His angels charge over you,” and, “In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is written again, “You shall not tempt Yahweh your God….”’” Once again denying His own rights as God Incarnate, Yahshua resisted the temptation to prove His deity to Israel “the easy way.” There would be plenty of miracles forthcoming, but not a single self-serving “magic trick” designed to wow the gullible. Yahshua would leave that sort of foolishness to the antichrist of the Last Days. Again, Yahshua countered the devil’s misuse of scripture with the Word properly applied. There’s a lesson for us in there somewhere, I think.
“Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship Yahweh your God, and Him only you shall serve.”’ Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.” (Matthew 4:1-11) Satan knew Yahshua was the “Son of God,” and had admitted as much. So if he could get Yahshua to worship him, instead of Yahweh (whose identity He shared, in point of fact) then it would be like that scene in the movie Back to the Future, where Doc Brown says that it “could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space time continuum, and destroy the entire universe! (Granted, that’s a worse-case scenario.)”
Not much subtlety there, but the devil was getting desperate. Note the scary thing: Yahshua didn’t deny Satan’s power to deliver on his promise. Controlling the nations may seem like a big impressive deal to us, but remember, Yahshua was the Son of God, to whom “the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the scales…. All nations before Him are as nothing, and they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless.” (Isaiah 40:15, 17) Yahshua shut him down with a yawn, a shrug, and a simple recitation of the First Commandment.
So before the Passion, Christ didn’t often claim to be the Son of God, for such verbal declarations didn’t suit His purpose—although that didn’t prevent perceptive people like John the Baptist from coming to that conclusion and blurting out the truth all by themselves. “And John bore witness, saying, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.’” (John 1:32-34)
A similar testimony fell from the lips of Martha, the sister of Lazarus (whom Yahshua was about to raise from the dead). “Jesus said to [Martha], ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.’” (John 11:25-27) Being both perceptive and faithful, Martha had come to the conclusion that Yahshua was both the Christ (the Messiah) and the Son of God. But where did she get the idea that the Messiah (the Anointed One) and “the Son of God” were the same person—thus God Himself walking among us in human flesh? After all, the rabbis still can’t agree on this point.
It should be noted that Caiaphas, the High Priest presiding over Yahshua’s “trial,” asked Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61) To which He replied, “I Am.” But this had not yet transpired when Martha made her declaration of faith. Indeed, there was little doubt—even among Yahshua’s detractors—that even though He hadn’t overtly stated the fact in public, His teaching and deeds had declared that He was “the Son of God.” It was somehow deemed blasphemous among Israel’s religious elite to cast out demons, cure leprosy, and raise the dead—things only God could do.
So when they finally succeeded in bringing Christ before the Roman Procurator, it was clear that they were incensed (and not a little jealous) because of His apparent divinity. “Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, ‘Crucify Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.’ The Jews answered him, ‘We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God.’” (John 19:6-7) Pilate didn’t care if Yahshua was claiming to be the Son of God. All he wanted to know was if the man represented a threat to the Roman government—that is, was He claiming to be a king—that is, the Anointed One? Yahshua obliged him with an answer in the affirmative, and the rest is history.
Of course, it was a “given” that if someone was the Son of God, He could easily extricate Himself from physical harm. So as the Romans crucified Him, “Those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, ‘He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, “I am the Son of God.”’” (Matthew 27:39-43) Coming down from the cross—and toasting the taunters extra-crispy with fire from the heavens—would have been easy. What took all the power and love God Himself could muster was to remain up there voluntarily—exercising a degree of restraint that none of us could have summoned. Nobody factored that in.
But I digress. We were wondering where Martha got the idea that the Messiah, the Christ—Yahweh’s anointed One—was also the “Son of God,” that is, God in flesh walking among us. I’ll admit, God’s revelation on this point is subtle—the Tanakh’s case is largely circumstantial, or at least buried in the minutiae. Isaiah says, “For unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given. And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7) The promised “child,” the “Son,” is said to be “mighty God” Himself. His role as the Messiah is described here, but the title is not actually used.
Daniel pinpointed the time of the Messiah’s coming, but you have to know your history, and do the math, to figure it out. “Seventy weeks [literally, sevens] are determined… to anoint the Most Holy. Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem [this took place in Nisan, 444 BC] until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks….” That is, there would be 69 seven-unit periods of time (one “unit” being 360 days—God never actually calls them “years”) making the total elapsed time 173,880 days, until the Messiah was revealed. That comes out to Nisan 10, 33 AD, the day of Christ’s triumphal entry (and not coincidentally, the day the Passover lambs were to be brought into the households of Israel—see Exodus 12:3). But again, this hadn’t yet happened when Martha spoke. It was still months away. “And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself.” (Daniel 9:24-26) Passover proper—and the passion—would take place four days later, on Nisan 14, just as required in the Torah, proving Daniel’s prophecy to be precisely accurate.
Daniel had referred to the Messiah as “the Prince,” indicating His royal lineage—a scion of the House of David. So we should explore what David himself had been promised in this regard. The prophet Nathan, speaking for Yahweh, told David: “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.” (II Samuel 7:12-16)
That’s a Messianic prophecy, but there appears to be a glitch. Yahshua never “committed iniquity,” though He was certainly “chastened with the rod of men.” The key is in the little word “If.” The Hebrew word ‘asher is a primitive relative pronoun that can mean many things: when, who, which, what, if, how, because, in order that, etc. Strong’s notes that “As it is indeclinable, it is often accompanied by the personal pronoun expletively, used to show the connection.” So the phrase really means, “If—or when—He is associated with iniquity….” The prophet is predicting the suffering of Christ as our sins were placed upon His shoulders! And because of this suffering, David’s house, kingdom, and throne will be established forever. But note as well that this “anointed King,” the physical seed of David, is also defined as the “Son of God” when Yahweh says, “I will be his Father, and he shall be My son.” Thus the “Son of God” is also the Messiah.
After His resurrection, of course, the Messiah was not shy about using the title “Son of God” of Himself, since all of the salient prophecies concerning His first advent had already been fulfilled. For example, in His prophetic letter to the church at Thyatira He said, “These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: ‘I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first. Nevertheless I have a few things against you.” (Revelation 2:18-20) For all their problems, the reason this church (and the six others addressed in Revelation 2 and 3, together prophetic of the entire course of Christendom) even existed was that they already knew and accepted the fact that Yahshua was indeed the Son of God.
We Christians tend to think of “God” in Hebraic terms—as Yahweh, the Creator of the universe, the God whose essential nature is love. And we see the “Son of God” as Immanuel—God with us, deity manifested among us in human form, the personification of Love walking among us. But long before Christ’s advent, Satan had a counterfeit poised to confuse the issue to anyone raised in the Greco-Roman tradition. Their idea of the “son of god” would have been Zeus, mythical son of the titans Cronus and Rhea (who were known not for love, but for eating their own children). Nor was Zeus known for his love toward mankind, but rather for throwing thunderbolts at his hapless victims. The last thing Satan wants us to be aware of is a Father who loves, or a Son who honors Him through self-sacrifice on behalf of those whom He loves.
Perhaps this pagan fraud is why Yahweh balanced the concept of the Son of God against the idea of an anointed priest/king—the Messiah/Christ. John’s gospel tells us what Yahshua’s ministry was really all about: “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31) The signs, the miracles, and the teachings of Christ are not ends in themselves. They were done to provide evidence of the love of Yahweh toward us, love that was manifested in the work of Yahshua the Messiah, the Son of the true and living God. Why? Because our belief in—our reliance upon—what He did for us makes us forever alive.
The newly-converted Saul of Tarsus also recognized this amazing duality—that Yahshua is both God’s Anointed and God’s Son. That is, He is both Yahweh’s heir and His representative. “Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, ‘Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?’ But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” (Acts 9:19-22)
The points he so forcefully made in the synagogues of Damascus were outlined in Paul’s letter to the Romans, in which he spoke of “…The gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” (Romans 1:1-4) That is, Yahshua’s credentials as the Christ/Messiah were established in the Hebrew Scriptures. They were confirmed through His lineage (in which as Joseph’s adopted son He was the legal heir of David through Solomon—whose entire genetic line was then disqualified by Jeconiah—but also the biological son of David through Mary, a descendant of David’s son Nathan). And His credentials as deity were proved through His resurrection—something that’s impossible to pull off if you are not in fact the Lord of Life.
John’s first epistle stresses the causal connection between Yahshua’s deity (the fact that He is the “Son of God”) and our subsequent access to eternal and essential life. “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made [i.e., called] Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son….” You can’t be a “halfway” believer. It doesn’t work that way. Either you believe God—by believing in the Son of God (i.e., trusting Him alone for your redemption)—or you don’t.
But since Yahweh has declared that Yahshua is His “Son,” His representative and heir who shares His identity though not (yet) His full glory, then to decline to rely upon Him for your reconciliation with the Father is tantamount to calling God a liar. Of course, if you don’t believe that God even exists, that’s a logical (though foolish) position to take. But if you do believe God exists, then unilaterally declaring Yahshua to be something less than Yahweh Himself, manifested in flesh, is both illogical and suicidal. Inventing a Messiah of your own imagination—in place of the One Yahweh sent—just plain doesn’t make any sense.
So it’s either yes or no, black or white, on or off: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.” (I John 5:10-13) The “name” of the Son of God is Yahshua, which means “Yahweh is Salvation.” That is the proposition in which we must place our unshakable faith. There is no other way, no matter what some religious people may tell you.
Religion may find it useful to keep people guessing as to the status or reality of their eternal destiny. But God wants us to know where we stand with Him. He wants confident children, not cringing conscripts. How then can we know which side of the equation we’re on? “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him.” (I John 5:1) The “proof of the pudding” is our love for one another. But if we are defined by our hatred, especially of fellow believers, then we need to question our own salvation—and repent.
That’s not to say we won’t experience conflict in our lives—quite the contrary. It may seem counterintuitive, but victory resides not in conquest, but in resting in God’s promises. “Whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:4-5) The objective is to “overcome the world,” that is, to live a victorious life in spite of the evil inherent in the world. Conventional wisdom would tell us that the way to do this is to strive to become stronger, wiser, richer, or somehow better than the world—or at least, than the majority of people living there: survival of the fittest. But God disagrees.
Look at this as a mathematical equation:
First, “Overcoming the World” = “Being Born of God.”
Also, “Overcoming the world” = “Believing that Yahshua is the Son of God.”
Thus, “Believing that Yahshua is the Son of God” = “Being Born of God.”
Put another way, “Faith” = “Victory” = “Eternal Life.”
And how does this compare to the conventional math (that insists that we must be strong)? Here our equation is:
“He who is in you” > “He who is in the world.” (See I John 4:4.)
In other words, Christ is greater than Satan (or anything Satan controls), so even the weakest, simplest, poorest, or least of us can overcome the world—if we trustingly believe that Yahshua the Messiah is the Son of God.
The Son of Man
We have looked at the duality of Yahshua’s nature from several angles now. He is both God’s representative and His heir. He is both Yahweh’s “only begotten Son” and His Anointed One. Another way of looking at this is to recognize that Yahshua was both the Son of God and the Son of Man. That is, His identity is that of Yahweh—who is spiritual in nature—but He inhabited a flesh-and-blood body for a time, as vulnerable and weak as yours or mine.
I realize that doesn’t make any sense to the natural man. It’s especially opaque to the rabbis of Judaism, who recognize (from scripture, and quite correctly) the incorporeal nature of God. If He is intangible, how can He be manifested in human form—and perhaps more to the point, why would He do that? It’s all completely illogical—until you factor in the love of God.
Actually, our thought processes need to begin one step further back. We sometimes assume (because we’re obviously here) that humanity was inevitable—that there is nothing extraordinary about a race of creatures capable of contemplating its own Creator. But think about it: as far as we know, we are utterly unique in this respect among beings with physical bodies. (And angels—spirit messengers—are known to us only through divine revelation: the natural man can’t even be sure they exist, for they don’t submit themselves to analysis.)
David puts the matter into perspective for us: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8:3-5) Compared with our Creator, we humans don’t have the significance of navel lint. And yet, everything God has told us leads us to the inescapable (and counterintuitive) conclusion that we are the whole point of His creation.
Do the math: in order for Yahweh (who alone is self-existent) to have the only thing he lacked within Himself—companions who might freely reciprocate His love—He had to create a life-form with the ability to reject it. Love by its very nature is voluntary. It cannot be forced, bought, demanded, or required—and if it is forced, it changes into something else like loyalty or obedience—not bad things, necessarily, but not love either. If one is not free not to love, then love itself is a meaningless concept. Love is not the same thing as worship, reverence, appreciation, or even gratitude, though these things invariably manifest themselves as expressions of our love for our Creator.
Angels (created immortal spirit messengers) have not been given free will, and are thus not capable of real love—though they do express reverence and worship. Because they are autonomous beings (i.e., they’re not robots—they have minds of their own), they have the ability—though not the permission—to rebel against Yahweh, and some of them have. Since they (by God’s design) cannot die once they are created, hell was created to incarcerate these rebellious spirits. But God, whose nature is love, realized that it would be potentially disastrous to give free will to immortal beings, because free will implies permission not to love. For a spiritually sentient being with free will to live forever without love would be the greatest of curses.
So in infinite mercy, Yahweh went to all the trouble of creating an entire physical universe to provide the raw materials with which He would build the bodies of mortal creatures like us. Then He made a planet perfectly suited for our habitation—the only one we know of for sure—with scores of astro- and geophysical factors balanced on a razor’s edge: being out of balance by only a few percentage points in any of them would make Earth uninhabitable.
But our planet does support life—in dizzying variety. There are millions of life forms here, and millions more have gone extinct. But as far as we can tell, humans—the offspring of Adam and Eve—are the only organisms who are aware of their Creator (or even aware that there might be one) and who exercise free will in the matter of their response to Him. The difference between us and other animals (all of whom have bodies and souls as we do) is explained (between the lines) in Genesis 2:7, where we are told that God “breathed into [Adam’s] nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” This “breath” is neither soul (Hebrew: nephesh) nor spirit (ruach), but the neshamah, which in functional terms gives us the capacity for spiritual indwelling: God’s Spirit can actually live within us, making us (i.e., our souls) alive through Yahweh’s life—permanently, for He is permanent.
So regardless of what evolutionists and academics would insist, man is special. He is not just another spiritless animal on a pointless evolutionary cul de sac. We arrogantly call ourselves homo sapiens—“man, wise”—but as a race, we are often far less “wise” than our animal neighbors. We can be destructive, hateful, greedy, violent, cruel and self-absorbed; but we can also be inventive, loving, altruistic, gentle, kind, and selfless. In short, our species exhibits a far greater range of behaviors than any other living entity. The reasons, I think, are twofold: (1) we are uniquely made in the image and likeness of Yahweh our Creator (i.e., with a spiritual component), and (2) we possess free will—the privilege and responsibility of moral decision making. What we do, whether good or evil, is the product of the ethical choices we make. We do not just blindly follow pre-programmed biological imperatives, like dolphins, bees, or grizzly bears following their instincts. Rather, man makes choices based on our perception of and attitude toward the God who we somehow know made us, even if we don’t know who He is—even if we deny His very existence.
So although His works (and especially His resurrection from the dead) declare Yahshua to be the “Son of God,” He invariably referred to Himself as the “Son of Man.” He wanted us to know that He had come as our representative, our advocate and Savior. He deals with mankind’s enemies at the gate, speaking on our behalf, and with our authority. But as the Son of Man, He is also the heir of humanity. That is, He took upon Himself the collective legacy of our entire race—in a word, sin.
On the surface, of course, the title “Son of Man” refers to His humanity, His vulnerability, His mortal frailty. Since He was human, this would not be remarkable, but for two things. First, the symbol of the “Son” indicates being one’s representative and heir—which is really hard to do on behalf of an entire species. And second, if we really knew Him, we would recognize Him as God cloaked in human flesh. He wasn’t merely “the best of us.” He was fundamentally different, unique, matchless, and perfect. His identity was that of Almighty God; though His form was that of mankind, the object of His quest and the point of His creation. Love, it would appear, makes you do funny things.
His self-abasement began with His birth—not to the rich or powerful, but to the poorest of the poor (though legally and biologically, He was a descendant of Israel’s royal line, as required by scripture). As He ministered among us, He was basically homeless, saying, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” (Matthew 8:20) Basically, He lowered Himself as far as He could while still meeting all of the prophetic qualifications. We tend to think of His poverty as a vast degradation from, say, a Caesar or a Herod. But for God to manifest Himself as a mortal human at all was 99.999% of His self-humiliation. Having descended so far already, the difference in worldly status between king and pauper was like dust on the scales—it hardly mattered. But His lowly station did help us to understand a little about the scope of His sacrifice.
It also helps us to keep our own priorities in order, for if we believe in Him, we are destined to outlive these inconvenient and vulnerable mortal bodies—thus in the big picture, it makes little sense to make them our top priorities. Yahshua advises us, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” (John 6:27) Our human bodies are like protective clothing we must wear while we’re on the road. When we reach our destination, however, we’ll get to “change into something more comfortable.” The “food which endures to everlasting life” is the Word of God—in the end, Christ Himself. But we could never have tasted of this “food” if He had appeared only as the Son of God. Our salvation was made possible through His persona as the Son of Man.
Thus it is no coincidence, no fluke, that when God’s prophets saw visions of the glorified, reigning Messiah, they saw Him as a human being, not some ethereal spirit-being or energy force. Daniel saw it this way: “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man [that is, in human form], coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
The One we will see and bow before will appear in the form of a man—someone with whom we can relate and communicate. This, of course, is as God planned it. But we must keep the cart before the horse here: not only was mankind created in the image of God (i.e., with a spiritual component), but the physical form in which our Creator made us was as He chose to appear among us. In other words, He wants us to know Him, not as a distant and terrifying being of awesome proportions and countenance, but as a Father, a friend, a familiar face. It’s as if humanity is a mask God wore so we His children wouldn’t be frightened by His glorious reality.
John too saw a vision revealing Almighty God in the form of a man: “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.” (Rev. 1:12-16) Granted, this divine manifestation is about as awesome as anything could be and still be described as “the Son of Man.” John had walked with Yahshua for three years, but needless to say, the Christ in the vision didn’t appear at all as John had known Him (with the possible exception of His brief glorified appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration).
A few chapters later, John finds Himself in the throne room of God, and again he is introduced to God in an anthropomorphic form, as One who “sat on the throne.” (Revelation 4:2) “In the midst of the throne” John sees four living beings representing attributes of God—a lion, a calf, a man, and an eagle. Then (in chapter 5) he is introduced to the “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” but when he turns to look, he sees “a Lamb, as though it had been slain.” Within the space of a few verses, John has been shown the nature of God through a dizzying array of symbolic placeholders. (If you’ll recall, we explored all of these symbols in Volume 3 of this book.) It should be obvious that God is not literally a lion, a lamb, an eagle, or a calf. These are but metaphors He has employed to teach us about His manifold nature.
It should thus be equally obvious that in His essential nature, God is not a man—He merely presents Himself in human form so that we might comprehend something of critical importance about Him. And what does “man” represent in Yahweh’s lexicon of symbols? Man is he who wields volition, free will, the right, privilege, and responsibility to make moral choices. The most significant of these choices is: what are we going to do with the love of God—receive it, ignore it, or attack it?
And what of those who choose to reject and assault the love of God? The Son of Man, it turns out, won’t just sit there in heaven looking awesome forever. He will also—when the timing is as God ordained it—exercise judgment and dispense wrath. “Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, ‘Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.’ So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.” (Revelation 14:14-16) Why is God’s judgment performed in the persona of the Son of Man, and not that of the Son of God (per se)? It once again goes back to the son’s symbolic function as the representative and heir of his father—in this case, humanity. The rebellion of man didn’t hurt Father Yahweh in the slightest, but Yahshua’s other “father,” the human race, has suffered injury beyond all imagining. So the “Son of Man” is about to “speak with His father’s enemies at the gate” again. This time He is armed and angry: the time for wrath has finally come.
Note that he wears a “golden crown,” a stephanos or garland of victory (as opposed to a diadema, a crown of royal authority—that will come shortly). His victory is a prophetic fait accompli, because the Son of Man (the One swinging the sickle of judgment, mowing down humanity’s enemies) is at last operating openly in the power (though not yet the persona) of the Son of God—His human vulnerability (that which took Him to the cross on our behalf) is now set aside.
In case you haven’t noticed, this has never happened before. The Son of Man has until this hour allowed us to exercise our free will without His interference, for good or evil. What has changed? In context, John is describing the buildup to the Battle of Armageddon. That is, at this late date, every person on earth has finally made up his mind as to whom he (or she) wishes to follow—Yahweh or Satan, Christ or the Antichrist. Free will has at last been universally exercised, so the harvest has begun. Yahshua has returned to the earth, and is about to assume His rightful place on the throne. The prophet describes it: “Then Yahweh will go forth and fight against those nations, as He fights in the day of battle. And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east…. Thus Yahweh my God will come, and all the saints with You.” (Zechariah 14:3-4, 5, cf. Acts 1:11)
It may seem as if I’m making this stuff up as I go along when I say things like “Yahshua was operating in the persona of the Son of Man but in the power of the Son of God.” Don’t blame me: it’s Yahshua’s fault. Elsewhere He declared, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man.” (John 5:24-27) The fact is, Yahshua both represents Yahweh to humanity and represents humanity to Yahweh. Another way of stating this is that He is our High Priest—the One who intercedes between man and God (see Hebrews 4:14-16). Note too that, as if there were any question, the Son of Man is the Son of God: they are One.
In truth, the line between Yahshua’s role as the Son of God and that of the Son of Man is so blurred, it’s hard to see. So it probably won’t kill us if we never sort it out. But since He used both terms to describe Himself, the least we can do is try to figure out why. Here’s another example of the principle:
“[Yahshua] said to the paralytic, ‘Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.’ And at once some of the scribes said within themselves, ‘This Man blasphemes!’ But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, ‘Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, “Your sins are forgiven you,” or to say, “Arise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’—then He said to the paralytic, ‘Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’ And he arose and departed to his house. Now when the multitudes saw it, they marveled and glorified God, who had given such power to men.” (Matthew 9:2-8) The power to heal (or raise the dead, as we saw above) came from God alone, and everybody knew it. And it was equally clear that the authority to forgive sins also rested solely with Yahweh. So when Yahshua characterized Himself as the “Son of Man” as He forgave the man’s sin and healed him, He was saying, in so many words, “Yes, I’m doing this in the power of Almighty God, but I’m acting in my role as a representative of humanity. I’m not just condescending to do you “puny humans” a favor. We’re all in this together. I am—in My humanity—your Savior.”
The power Christ exercised was a function of the Holy Spirit dwelling within Him—the same Spirit that quickens and empowers all believers today. Yahshua pointed out that His deity may not be immediately apparent to some, judging solely on His persona as the Son of Man (as opposed to being the Son of God). He knew it was a bit counterintuitive, and He was okay with that, up to a point. So He told the scribes and Pharisees who were accusing Him of being able to cast out demons because He was possessed by one (I know, it sounds dumb when you say it like that), “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:31-32)
In other words, even if you don’t at first realize the significance of His being the “Son of Man,” your salvation depends upon your acceptance of the fact that Yahshua is the “Son of God,” empowered by—and the embodiment of—Yahweh’s Spirit. As John later put it, “Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?... He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life…. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” (I John 5:5, 12, 20) A striking example of someone who initially “blasphemed” the Son of Man was Saul of Tarsus, whose eye-opening epiphany changed his mind, and his heart. Saul (the Apostle Paul) never doubted the power or sovereignty of Yahweh, though he was mistaken (initially) about Yahshua’s divine identity. That little misconception got sorted out in dramatic fashion on the Damascus road.
As we have seen with every manifestation of Yahweh among men, the architectural maxim, “Form follows function” applies. That is, theophanies, Shekinah appearances, heavenly dreams and visions, and the Holy Spirit are all sent by God at different times to reveal different aspects of His character and plan. If you’ll recall from Volume I of this work (the section on “The Nature of God”) I listed the two advents of Christ as separate divine manifestations, for these “forms,” though both human—the Son of Man—will be as different from one another as you can possibly imagine.
During Messiah’s second appearance (coming soon, if I’m not mistaken), we will discover in no uncertain terms what His persona as the “Son of God” is all about: majesty, glory, and undeniable authority. But His first advent put the Man in “manifestation,” so to speak: the humility of His humanity explains why Yahshua so often referred to Himself as the “Son of Man.” This statement sums it up: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28) His self-abasement is to be our pattern. Nothing is quite so out of place in the Christian life as pride.
One of the keys to this line of inquiry is that the Son of God (as such) could not actually “give His live a ransom for many” because Yahweh (and therefore His Son as well) is eternally self-existent—thus alive by definition. To lay down His life, He would also have to be human, mortal, operating as a “son of man.” So early in His ministry, Christ had told Nicodemus, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:12-14) We can sort of understand how God would have to manifest Himself as the “Son of Man” if He were to be “lifted up like the serpent in the wilderness” (clearly a reference to the crucifixion), but note that He was “the Son of Man” while still in heaven—that is, this persona was established on our behalf from ages past; it wasn’t a divine afterthought.
So as the time grew near, He announced, “‘Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die….” That is, He was predicting His death by crucifixion (as prophetically described in Psalm 22:14-18 and Numbers 21:8). Not exactly what you’d expect of God Incarnate.
“The people answered Him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, “The Son of Man must be lifted up”? Who is this Son of Man?’…” The people had a point. Since the Christ is the Son of God, He presumably cannot die—whether by crucifixion or any other method. He “remains forever” (see Exodus 15:18, Isaiah 9:7). So they were understandably confused. Though they apparently had no trouble theologically equating “the Christ” with Yahshua’s self-descriptive “Son of Man,” it remained a puzzle: who is this “Son of Man” if not the everlasting Messiah (a.k.a. the Son of God), and how, if the Messiah lives forever, can the Son of Man be crucified?
What He didn’t explain (not here, anyway) was that His whole mission—planned from eternity past—had but one purpose: to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He was to be the fulfillment of the Passover prophecy, the One whose blood, smeared on the doorposts and lintels of Israel (read: the cross), would by His death rescue the whole world from destruction— if only they would place their faith in the efficacy of His sacrifice. This sacrifice, then, could only be made in the persona of the Son of Man—God in fully human form. It must be true: who’d make up a story like that?
Yahshua didn’t answer their question (“Who is this Son of Man?”) directly. Until His resurrection, it would have been too much for anyone to comprehend. Rather, He shifted metaphors, indirectly explaining who the “Son of Man” was—Himself. “Then Jesus said to them, ‘A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.’” (John 12:31-36) But previously, He had identified Himself as this “light”: “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12) A bit later, He would explain it to His disciples in these terms: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) As usual, Yahshua drew a line in the sand—between light and darkness, truth and falsehood, life and death. But the line would be without context until His mission as the Son of Man was complete—at the resurrection. Until then, no one would know that the Son of Man was also the Son of God.
Well, almost no one. Stressing the need for self-denial (the attribute that He Himself had demonstrated in spades) “Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Self-denial for its own sake, however, is worthless. If done without love (see I Corinthians 13:3) it is pointless and unprofitable. It only makes sense in emulation of Christ’s sacrifice, and in anticipation of His coming glory: “For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works. Assuredly, I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.’” (Matthew 16:24-28)
Only six days later, as it turned out, Peter, James, and John—the inner circle of His disciples—were given a brief glimpse of Christ’s coming glory, when He was “transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as the light.” (Matthew 17:2) They witnessed His conversation with Moses and Elijah (which revealed that their concept of the finality of death in Sheol was somewhat overstated), and they heard God speaking from Heaven, instructing them to listen to their master Yahshua—something we should all be doing. Okay, so what did He tell them? First, He told them not to be afraid. And then, “As they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.’” (Matthew 17:9)
If the chief priests and Pharisees (not to mention the Romans) had seen Yahshua glorified like that—or even if they’d heard about it—they may not have been quite so eager to kill Him. But Yahshua was determined to fulfill His prophetic destiny, going to the cross on Passover, resting in the tomb on the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and rising from the grave on the Feast of Firstfruits. Notice, though, the persona in which He said He’d rise: as the Son of Man. His ultimate glorification as the Son of God will not be apparent to all until He reigns for a thousand years on the throne of David—and even then, He often stressed His humanity over His deity when describing His coming glorified role, reminding us forever that He is Immanuel: God with us.
A few examples:
(1) “And the high priest answered and said to Him, ‘I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63-64) When being grilled by the high priest as to His identity, Yahshua answered the question “Are you the Son of God?” in the affirmative—and yet He still referred to Himself as the Son of Man, even in His role as God’s Anointed One. That sort of candor would have gotten Him stoned in the streets a few years back, but now that He was within sight of the cross (this conversation took place on the very day of His crucifixion), He freely stated the whole truth to people who clearly couldn’t handle it.
(2) “He answered and said to them: ‘He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!’” (Matthew 13:37-43) Describing to His disciples His coming role as Judge at the end of the age (as He explained the parable of the wheat and the tares), Yahshua identifies Himself the Son of Man—not of God—though deity is clearly a job requirement if you’re going to be supervising angels as they weed the lawless and offensive elements out of His kingdom. The Son of God has the authority, of course, but it takes the Son of Man—the one who sowed the good seed in the first place—to recognize who are His, and who are satanic plants.
(3) “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day…. Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before?’” (John 6:53-53, 61-62) Though fully human, Yahshua insisted that His followers see Him as He really was—the One whose body and blood would provide life and sustenance to their souls. (After all, the Passover Lamb was to be eaten by the worshiper and his family, and its blood was applied in faith to the doorposts of the home. Indeed, the picture was repeated in most of the Levitical blood sacrifices, one way or another.) If they couldn’t handle this metaphor, they would find themselves woefully unprepared for His glorious appearing.
(4) “But He answered and said to them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:39-40) The One who would give His life on behalf of the worst of us (as Jonah was assigned to preach repentance to the wicked city of Nineveh) would reenact the same sign: spending three days and three nights in a prophetically significant place. If you’ll recall (from Volume 3 of this work), the “fish” symbol represents lost humanity—those whom God is trying to “catch” in His net of love. It does no one any good to catch dead fish, yet most people presume that Yahshua’s “heart of the earth” statement means “the grave.” But Jonah’s time was spent “in the fish”—He was on his way (whether or not he wanted to) to save lost Nineveh. Anybody familiar with the passion narrative (or the Torah, for that matter) knows that Christ didn’t spend “three days and three nights” in Joseph’s tomb. No, the “heart of the earth” here is actually the city of Jerusalem—the “heart” of humanity’s dwelling place, where God docks His “fishing boat,” so to speak. Yahshua entered the city of the lost on Thursday morning of the Passion Week (after having spent the night in Bethany), and didn’t leave again until after sunset on Saturday (i.e., during the wee hours of the first day of the week). That’s three days and three nights: doubtless the most consequential three day period in the history of fallen man. Even in Yahshua’s resurrection, He was operating in the persona the Son of Man.
(5) “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” (Matthew 10:21-23) Although given as instructions to Yahshua’s twelve disciples as He sent them out to announce the arrival of His kingdom in Israel, the reference to His “coming” (among other things) is a clue that these are actually guidelines for the 144,000 Jewish messengers who will appear during the Tribulation (see Revelation 7 and 14), evangelizing in Israel. The Jews are expecting their Messiah, of course. What they’re not expecting is that their promised Anointed One is the same Son of Man whom Christians have been worshiping for the past two thousand years.
(6) “For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together. Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:27-30) The skeptics of Yahshua’s day demanded a “sign” authenticating His identity. All they were given was the rather subtle “sign of the prophet Jonah,” which we discussed above. But at the end of the age, the sign foreshadowing the return Son of Man will be universally witnessed and understood—which is not to say they’ll all like what it portends. I have no idea what this “sign” will be (beyond darkened skies, meteor showers, and the like), but the One who comes in its wake will appear in the form of a human being, though doing (as usual) what only God can do: the Messiah is coming in the persona of the Son of Man.
(7) “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.” (Matthew 25:31-32) This is no parable (though Yahshua does employ a simile: sheep denote innocence, while goats are symbolic of sin). This separation of the redeemed from the rebellious will apparently be the first order of business in the Millennial kingdom. Daniel (12:12) hints that the process will be complete 45 days into the kingdom age (that is, 1,335 days after the abomination of desolation). Here, the Shepherd/Judge “sitting on the throne of His glory” is described as the Son of Man—though divine wisdom and authority are the order of the day.
(8) “So Jesus said to them, ‘Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’” (Matthew 19:28) The “regeneration” is when the saints will be clothed in their immortal bodies—in other words, it’s the rapture and its aftermath. (The Greek noun paliggenesia means “birth again,” that is, a new birth, renewal, or re-creation—the “restoration of a thing to its pristine state, its renovation, as the renewal or restoration of life after death.”—Thayer). Basically, it’s the state we believers will enjoy during the Millennium and beyond, when Christ reigns personally over His creation. Even here, he will retain His persona as the Son of Man: His form will still be “human,” though doubtless glorified (as on the mount of transfiguration) to the greatest extent that mortal man can bear.
The Son of David
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1) There are two genealogies for the line of Yahshua in the New Testament. The one in Luke 3 traces His biological lineage—through His mother Mary, who was a descendant of David through his son Nathan. The one in Matthew 1 outlines Yahshua’s legal claim to the throne of Israel through His adoptive father, Joseph, a descendant of David through Solomon.
Why did the gospel writers bother tracking down Yahshua’s lineage? What difference would it make whose descendant He was? First, there’s the prophetic deathbed blessing of Jacob, pinpointing which of his twelve sons’ progeny would rule Israel: “Judah, you are he whom your brothers shall praise. Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies. Your father’s children shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion’s whelp. From the prey, my son, you have gone up. He bows down, he lies down as a lion; and as a lion, who shall rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes. And to Him shall be the obedience of the people. Binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, He washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes.” (Genesis 49:8-11)
“Shiloh” means “He whose it is,” or “He whose right it is.” The scepter, of course, is the classic implement of royalty. And the lion is a common metaphor for royal authority. Someone from the tribe of Judah, then, would be the king of the nation of Israel. And notice the details. He doesn’t say that Judah will always wield the scepter, only that once He does, it will never pass to another tribe. Israel’s first king was Saul—from the tribe of Benjamin. David (from Judah) was the nation’s second king, and one of his descendants held the throne until the Babylonian captivity, after which Israel had no king. The Maccabees ruled for a time, though not as kings, but priests. And what about Herod and his clan, “kings” over Israel (under the Romans) during the time of Christ? Herod was not an Israelite at all, but an Idumean—a descendant of Jacob’s brother, Esau.
Finally, note that Jacob’s children will “bow down before” the victorious son of Judah. Notwithstanding the fact that Middle Eastern potentates often demanded such obeisance, such was not the case with Israel. They were to bow before Yahweh alone (see Exodus 20:3-5). So although it’s a bit of an extrapolation, this prophecy of Judah’s ascendency includes a heavy-handed hint that the Son of God would somehow be Judah’s physical descendent.
That’s all a little generalized, of course. But Yahweh later brought things into focus, telling His prophet Nathan to reveal this to King David: “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son…. And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.” (II Samuel 7:12-14, 16) It sounds at first like he’s talking about David’s son Solomon, but Solomon would prove to be but a partial, near-term fulfillment of the prophecy. In the long run, this is about the Messiah—Yahshua, the Son (i.e., descendent) of David. The Father-and-Son relationship between Yahweh and Solomon was only metaphorical (as it is with us), but in the case of Yahshua, it was mind-bendingly literal.
David responded to Yahweh’s awesome promise with thanksgiving and praise: “Now, O Lord Yahweh, the word which You have spoken concerning Your servant and concerning his house, establish it forever and do as You have said. So let Your name be magnified forever, saying, ‘Yahweh of hosts is the God over Israel.’ And let the house of Your servant David be established before You. For You, O Yahweh of hosts, God of Israel, have revealed this to Your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house.’ Therefore Your servant has found it in his heart to pray this prayer to You.” (II Samuel 7:25-27) From this point onward, Israel’s Messianic expectations were inextricably linked to the House of David. That’s why Matthew and Luke were both so careful to trace Yahshua’s lineage back to David, and beyond.
This poses a “problem” for anyone other than Yahshua who wants to pass himself off as Israel’s Messiah. (Simon ben Kosiba, a.k.a. Bar Kochba, springs to mind, as does the Antichrist of the last days. And as Yahshua Himself warned—in Matthew 24:5—“Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ.’” If you want to pass yourself off as God’s “Anointed One” (that is, if you expect His people to buy it), you’re going to have to prove that you are a direct biological (and legal) descendant of King David. One little glitch: the genealogical records of Israel’s families are up in smoke. They were held in the Second Temple—which was utterly destroyed by Roman troops in 70 A.D.
By the way, why do I say the Messiah must be both the biological and legal son of David? The royal line had to pass through King Solomon. David had told his son Solomon, “The word of Yahweh came to me, saying… ‘Behold, a son shall be born to you, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies all around. His name shall be Solomon, for I will give peace and quietness to Israel in his days. He shall build a house for My name, and he shall be My son, and I will be his Father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.’” (I Chronicles 22:8-10) So far, so good: Solomon was the ancestor of Joseph, Mary’s husband.
But Solomon’s biological line was cut off at the knees just before the Babylonian captivity, when this curse was pronounced against King Jeconiah (a.k.a. Coniah): “Thus says Yahweh: Write this man [Coniah] down as childless, a man who shall not prosper in his days. For none of his descendants shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah.” (Jeremiah 22:30) Thus though Joseph (or somebody else in Solomon’s line) was required to be Yahshua’s legal (i.e., adoptive) father, He could not have been His biological parent, for he was disqualified by the curse of Jeconiah (see Matthew 3:12). But the Christ still had to be a physical heir of King David—and Mary’s lineage demonstrates that He was.
It scarcely needs saying (but I’ll say it anyway): someone other than Yahshua having the required ancestry is about as unlikely as the Three Stooges showing up in Bethlehem to bring the child mold, Frankenstein, and myrtle. But even if you somehow had the right lineage (which is something no one can arrange or engineer on his own behalf), there’s absolutely no way to prove it. Modern messianic wannabes are going to have to rely heavily on their sycophants’ gullibility, ignorance, and desperation.
Lest we should miss the incredible Messianic significance of the title “Son of David,” Ethan the Ezrahite writes, “I will sing of the mercies of Yahweh forever. With my mouth will I make known Your faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, ‘Mercy shall be built up forever; Your faithfulness You shall establish in the very heavens.’ I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn to My servant David: ‘Your seed I will establish forever and build up your throne to all generations.’ Selah….” When you use terminology like “forever” and “established in the heavens” and “to all generations,” you’re speaking of something (or someOne) that transcends mortal humanity; you’re talking about the very Son of God—though he is also promised to be the Son of David.
Ethan goes on to say, “Then You spoke in a vision to Your holy one, and said: ‘I have given help to one who is mighty; I have exalted one chosen from the people. I have found My servant David; With My holy oil I have anointed him [the definition of “Messiah”], with whom My hand shall be established.” As Yahweh’s chosen King over Israel, David was anointed by the prophet Samuel (I Samuel 16:13) and later by the elders of Judah (II Samuel 2:4) and then of all of Israel (II Samuel 5:3). “Also My arm shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not outwit him, Nor the son of wickedness afflict him. I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague those who hate him. But My faithfulness and My mercy shall be with him, and in My name his horn shall be exalted….” That is, as David prospered, Yahweh would be honored—their cause in Israel was perceived as one.
Up to this point, David Himself is in view, and Ethan is looking back on his glorious reign. But now he begins looking forward to another King, One who will reign forever on David’s throne. “Also I will set his hand over the sea [a metaphor for the gentile nations], and his right hand over the rivers. He shall cry to Me, ‘You are my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation.’ Also I will make him My firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. My mercy I will keep for him forever, and My covenant shall stand firm with him. His seed also I will make to endure forever, and his throne as the days of heaven.” (Psalm 89:1-4, 19-29) Again, if somebody wants to pass himself off as the Messiah, he’s going to have to figure out how to “endure forever.”
As if to clarify the “longevity” of the Messiah’s reign, the sons of Korah write, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions…. I will make Your name to be remembered in all generations. Therefore the people shall praise You [remember Jacob’s “Judah” prophecy?] forever and ever.” (Psalm 45:6-7, 17) Christ’s Millennial reign will only be the beginning. A thousand years, as long as that seems, is somewhat short of “forever and ever.” I am reminded that Adolph Hitler’s vaunted “thousand-year Reich” endured only thirteen years. And the Antichrist, though he will attain suzerainty over the whole earth, will reign for only three and a half years. Face it: “Forever” is unattainable for anyone other than the immortal (nay, eternal) heir of David, the Son of God.
The “David” connection was well understood and acknowledged in the first century. So, “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, ‘What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?’ They said to Him, ‘The Son of David.’” They were right, of course, but Yahshua didn’t bother pointing out that He was uniquely qualified by birth to sit on the throne of Israel’s greatest king. Rather, He took the opportunity to point out that David had called his own son/descendant “lord,” something that was unheard of. The son honors the father and calls him lord, not the other way around. That’s just the way it is—unless that son is also the Son of God. “He said to them, ‘How then does David in the Spirit call Him “Lord,” saying: “Yahweh said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool’? If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?”’ And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore.” (Matthew 22:41-46)
Psalm 110 (from which He quoted here) is clearly prophetic of the Messiah. It speaks of His uncontested rule, His eternal priesthood (in the order not of Aaron, but of Melchizedek), and His judgment (and yes, wrath) at the end of the age. Clearly, the definitive “Son of David” is no ordinary human king. So calling Yahshua “Son of David” was tantamount to calling Him the Messiah, with all that entailed. Israel’s religious leaders, of course, didn’t want to hear it, since the appearance of God’s Anointed would spell the end of their profitable little scam.
But those who had nothing to lose were more open to the idea—especially in light of His mighty works: “Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’” (Matthew 12:22-23) Doing what no mere man could do certainly had the effect of separating the sheep from the goats, as it were.
It wasn’t that Yahshua “talked a good game.” Anybody can claim to be somebody great. No, it was what He did, not what He said, that proved His identity as the “Son of David.” Those who reject Him today seem fond of saying, “He was a great moral teacher.” (This even though they refuse to follow His teachings. Love your enemy? Not likely). But the common faithful in first-century Judea saw Malachi’s prophecy fulfilled before their very eyes: “To you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.” (Malachi 4:2)
As Yahshua’s fame spread in Galilee, those in need (at least those willing to admit it) were all too willing to make the connection: this Healer was the promised Son of David. There was (for them) no other explanation. “When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, ‘Son of David, have mercy on us!’ And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord.’ Then He touched their eyes, saying, ‘According to your faith let it be to you.’” (Matthew 9:27-29) It hadn’t been that long since Yahshua had raised eyebrows by turning water into wine. But here, He performed an infinitely more significant miracle: He turned faith into sight—something every believer can look forward to.
Later in His ministry, something very similar happened. It was like déjà vu, all over again: “Now as they went out of Jericho, a great multitude followed Him. And behold, two blind men sitting by the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying, ‘Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!’ Then the multitude warned them that they should be quiet; but they cried out all the more, saying, ‘Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David!’…” The words were spoken in Aramaic, and transmitted to us through Greek, and then into English. I’d love to know whether the blind men were using the equivalent of the Hebrew Adonai (lord, master), or were actually calling Yahshua Yahweh—the divine Name invariably mistranslated “Lord” in languages other than Hebrew—even in the Greek of the New Testament. At the very least, they were acknowledging that the “Son of David” was indeed their master, their owner, their lord.
And now that the relationship between them had been established (they the servants, and He their King) Yahshua did what any good master would do for His loyal subjects: He took care of them. “So Jesus stood still and called them, and said, “’What do you want Me to do for you?’ They said to Him, ‘Lord, that our eyes may be opened.’ So Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed Him.” (Matthew 20:29-34, cf. Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43) Could it be that God sometimes declines to answer our prayers simply because we have not established in our own hearts and minds who is Who in this relationship? Do we really consider Christ our Lord and King, or do we treat Him like some sort of celestial ATM machine—someone whose buttons we can push if we need something?
Yahshua made it quite clear that His ministry, teachings, and miracles were for the benefit and edification of the Jews. The reason for this was the same as why the Torah had been given to Israel alone: Israel was chosen, selected, and set apart to be Yahweh’s witness to the rest of the world. Though salvation was not exclusively to them, it was, by God’s design, to be delivered through them. Israel’s job was to observe and keep the Torah—which pointed directly toward the life and mission of Yahshua—and the gentiles’ job was to observe Israel. Of course, if the Jews didn’t keep their end of the bargain, we goyim would be lost—or at least very confused about our spiritual destinies and options.
That being said, the whole “Son of David” concept wasn’t lost on the gentile world, at least in the Levant. Israel’s greatest king had wielded immense influence, and his sterling reputation was recognized from Phoenicia to Aram to Egypt and beyond. Even now, a millennium after David’s reign, his legacy and promise were still known among Israel’s neighbors. So we read, “Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon [two Phoenician cities, on the Mediterranean coast]. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.’ But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she cries out after us.’ But He answered and said, ‘I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel….’”
The Messiah’s reputation—not to mention His Davidic credentials—had become known well beyond Galilee and Judea. Had not Isaiah (in 9:1-2) foreseen that “By the way of the sea [among other places]…the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”? But dire need respects no borders, and a mother’s love will not be denied. The Canaanite woman would not take no for an answer: Yahshua was there, and her daughter was suffering. She had no use for protocol, etiquette, or the fine points of Hebrew theology. “Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’ But He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.’ And she said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered and said to her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” (Matthew 15:21-28)
Note that the woman didn’t protest that “she was as deserving as any Jew,” or that “It isn’t fair,” or that “We’re all God’s children”—all of which were arguably true, one way or another. Whether or not she understood the “chosen witness” role of Israel (and let’s be honest: few did—or do), she was willing to receive Yahshua as “Lord” based on her expectations concerning the “Son of David.” In the house of the King, the children are given priority, and that’s as it should be. But even if they’re not exactly part of the family, the servants and farm animals get to rest on the Sabbath, do they not? The pets get fed, even though they’re not scions of the King. There is enough compassion to go around, enough resources, enough love, and enough power. She was counting on the King of Israel to do the right thing, and He did. One gets the feeling that Yahshua just wanted to hear her say it out loud.
Passion week began, ironically enough, with the enthusiastic public acclamation of Yahshua as the Son of David—ironic, because before the week was out, He would be betrayed by one of His own disciples (and abandoned by the rest), tried in a couple of kangaroo courts, beaten within an inch of His life for no reason, executed on a Roman cross, and entombed in a borrowed crypt. Of course, His subsequent resurrection from the dead on the Feast of Firstfruits proved that He was not only the Son of David, but also the Son of God. Suddenly, Messianic prophecies were being fulfilled one right after the other. The reason He was there in Jerusalem in the first place was that on this day (the 10th of Nisan) the Lamb of God—the One who was to be sacrificed on Passover—was to be brought into the household of Israel (see Exodus 12:2). The year was pinpointed by Daniel’s remarkable chapter 9 prophecy. The Messiah was to come 173,880 days after a historically verifiable event.
So as Yahshua entered Jerusalem, “They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them.” Remember Jacob’s “donkey and colt” prophecy in Genesis 49? “And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road.” This was something done to honor a king—see II Kings 9:13. “Others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” Perhaps this was done in anticipation of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:40). “Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” As we saw previously, this is a direct quote from Psalm 118. “And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, ‘Who is this?’ So the multitudes said, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.’” (Matthew 21:7-11) Not “a” prophet, but The Prophet. The reference is to Deuteronomy 18:15, in which Moses promised Israel that a prophet “like him” (i.e., a leader and lawgiver, from Israelite lineage) would be sent from Yahweh to represent Him, in response to the people’s abject terror at the divine display of God’s glory they had witnessed at Horeb.
Psalm 118, quoted so enthusiastically by the throng, is mostly Messianic in character. (For example, this is the psalm in which “the stone which the builders rejected” is identified as God’s “chief cornerstone”—the One with whom everything else must align.) The people sang, “Save now, I pray, [i.e., Hosanna, in Hebrew] O Yahweh. O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity. Blessed is He who comes in the name of Yahweh!” Remember, “Yahshua” means “Yahweh is salvation.” He literally came in the “name of Yahweh.” “We have blessed you from the house of Yahweh. God is Yahweh, and He has given us light. Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.” Yahshua’s word and deeds identified Him as (1) the light of the world, (2) the sacrifice for our atonement, and (3) God incarnate. “You are my God, and I will praise You.” Again, remember Jacob’s Genesis 49 prophecy concerning the scion of Judah: “You are He whom your brothers shall praise.” “You are my God, I will exalt You. Oh, give thanks to Yahweh, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 118:25-29)
We weren’t quite done in Matthew 21. After Yahshua’s triumphal entry, “The blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out in the temple and saying, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they were indignant and said to Him, ‘Do You hear what these are saying?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Yes. Have you never read, “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise”?’” (Matthew 21:14-16) It just wasn’t politically correct to unblushingly receive accolades like “Hosanna to the Son of David!” One gets the feeling that the chief priests and scribes didn’t even think such a thing was possible—that a Man could actually fulfill the prophecies of God. The truth of Yahweh was (as it is today) offensive to those who have chosen not to believe it. Isn’t it amazing how the innocent and simple can perceive (and receive) what the arrogant and erudite cannot!
Our Adoption as Sons
The concept of adoption implies a change in familial status, a fundamental shift in relationship between parents and children. A child is born to a mother and father, but then—due to a variety of circumstances—he is transformed through legal means into being the child of people other than his birth parents (or at least one of them). Those “circumstances” invariably involve problems, pain, or pressure—tragic events in life that one would wish had not happened: less-than-ideal situations or conditions. Adoption is designed to alleviate those issues.
Basically, adoption attempts to heal domestic heartbreak of one kind or another. At its best, it rebuilds families. In the United States, 35% of all children—almost 25 million of them—live with only one of their parents. That is, one biological parent (usually the father) is absent. As far as the child is concerned, it doesn’t really matter whether the reason for this is divorce, failure to marry in the first place, or death. Mom (in most cases) is left to raise the child on her own. Cohabiting without committal doesn’t really help. But when a man loves this single mom, marries her, and adopts her children as his own, he has healed the family, insofar as it is possible to do so.
As I said, that’s a best-case scenario: mending a broken family. But all too often, there is no family left to restore: it must be built from scratch. My wife and I adopted nine out of our eleven children, so I have a little hard-won insight into this. All of our adopted kids were orphaned or abandoned, one way or another. Several came from foreign countries, where the birth parents felt driven by poverty or circumstances to abandon their child. One was even left to die as an infant in a city trash dump. A few were “replacement” adoptions, in which other people had first adopted the child, only to find themselves unable to cope or unwilling to commit—returning the child to the agency like an ugly gift sweater to a department store. Several were abused or neglected in orphanages or interim homes, leaving psychological scars that never completely healed. Four of our adopted kids were seriously handicapped, physically, mentally, or both. (We once told God we’d adopt a physically challenged kid, but we couldn’t handle mental or emotional issues. He had a good laugh over that one.)
All of our adopted children were unwanted in the world before they came home to us. And although they were loved unconditionally after they got here, their lives did not automatically become perfect and problem free. (Love covers a multitude of sins; it does not stop a seizure, cure cerebral palsy or teenage acne, reverse a learning disability, or pay for the orthodontist.) Rather, our adopted children became just like our two biological sons—faced with the trials of growing up, making choices, and living with their mistakes and challenges. What we did as parents was to provide opportunities and options. We opened doors. What our kids did with those chances for success was entirely up to them. Some chose wisely, some not so much. (The handicapped kids, ironically enough, didn’t seem to realize that they even had problems. They just did the best they could.)
I bring all of this up because it seems to me that parents adopting children is a lot like God providing salvation for us. In effect, He saves us by adopting us, for we start out abandoned and helpless (and yes, handicapped), whether we know it or not. It has occurred to me that if you want to know what it feels like to be God, adopt a houseful of kids. You will find yourself invested in the lives of others in every possible way—emotionally, physically, financially, legally, intellectually, and spiritually. They will bring you great joy and/or deep sorrow. They will put a smile on your face and/or bring a tear in your eye. And remarkably, you will find yourself judging your own success by how your children treat each other.
Although the similarities between our adoption of children and God’s adoption of us are apparent enough, we should bear in mind that there are also a few fundamental differences. First, when we adopt children, they (if they’re young or unable) have no say in the matter. God’s relationship with us, on the other hand, is a matter of our choice, of our deciding whether or not to accept the invitation He has offered to join His wonderful family. We can always say “no,” but woe to the one who talks out of coming in from the cold. For that one is reserved the lake of fire.
Second, we humans aren’t God. We don’t know everything or love perfectly. Rather, we can be counted upon to make mistakes in raising our children (adopted or otherwise), simply because we, like they, are fallen human creatures. It’s like the near-sighted leading the blind. We need to be in constant touch with the One who sees everything clearly if we wish to avoid falling into the ditch, dragging the kids with us.
Several examples of adoption are mentioned in scripture. Jacob “adopted” the two sons born to his son Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, in effect giving Joseph the firstborn’s double portion. That honor would normally have gone to Reuben, but his adultery (or was it incest?) with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah (Genesis 35:22, 49:4) cost him the place of preeminence. Of course, Joseph’s heroism and faithfulness had been instrumental in saving the entire family—not to mention the nation of Egypt—from starvation. So Jacob told Joseph, “And now your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt, are mine; as Reuben and Simeon, they shall be mine.” (Genesis 48:5) As I said, adoption is invariably a loving response to some human tragedy. This “adoption” never would have taken place if Reuben and his jealous brothers had not sold Joseph into slavery. But of course, Yahweh was orchestrating the whole drama for our edification.
Speaking of God orchestrating an improbable series of events, consider the case of Moses. “And the child grew, and [Moses’ mother Jochebed] brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. So she called his name Moses [literally, drawn out], saying, “Because I drew him out of the water.” (Exodus 2:10) Why would she give up her infant son for “adoption,” even to a princess? It’s because a paranoid Pharaoh noticed that the Hebrews had grown more numerous than the Egyptians themselves, even though they had been reduced to the status of slaves. His solution was to order a controlled genocide—slaying all of the male babies that were born to Israelite women (see Exodus 1). He found himself, however, with widespread “civil disobedience” on his hands, for the midwives protected the newborns—and God protected the midwives in turn. In frustration, Pharaoh finally just ordered that all newborn Israelite males were to be thrown into the river.
Jochebed figured out how to keep the “letter” of the evil law while flouting its spirit (something we all must do from time to time). She “threw” her infant son into the Nile, all right—in a floating basket of waterproofed bulrushes, tended carefully by the baby’s sister Miriam. As luck (cough, choke) would have it, Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby in the basket, arranged for his own mother to nurse him until he was weaned, and then brought the child into the very household of Pharaoh, adopting him as her own son. Why? Because Yahweh had decreed that He would soon teach the world what being freed from bondage was all about. And to do so He would need an educated deliverer, a lawgiver, a literate prophet unintimidated in the halls of power, trained in the arts of diplomacy and negotiation. So He “elevated” Moses from a slave’s son to a prince of the most powerful nation on Earth. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
After Israel had sunk into idolatry—and gotten itself deported to Babylon for its troubles—Persia “inherited” the Jewish captives when they conquered the decadent Babylonians. During this time, an orphan daughter named Esther was adopted by her older cousin, Mordecai. “And Mordecai had brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. The young woman was lovely and beautiful. When her father and mother died, Mordecai took her as his own daughter.” (Esther 2:7) Through another of the Bible’s incredibly unlikely (read: orchestrated by God) scenarios, Esther became the Persian queen—the wife of the powerful Persian monarch Ahasuerus (Xerxes I), who “reigned over one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, from India to Ethiopia.” It’s a long and complicated story: this is the “Cliff-Notes” version.
Esther was chosen for her beauty, and the king loved her for her sweet spirit, but (taking Mordecai’s advice) she did not reveal that she was Jewish. Since she had the ear of the king (not to mention his heart), it was she to whom her adopted father Mordecai turned when he learned of a plot to kill the king. She dutifully made the matter known, and the king’s life was saved. At this point, the plot thickened. A proud and powerful noble named Haman became incensed when Mordecai refused to bow before him (which would have been a violation of the First Commandment). So Haman hatched a plot to kill all of the Jews in Ahasuerus’ vast kingdom, ostensibly because they valued the Torah over the king’s law—they refused to assimilate into Persian culture)—and the king signed off on it (not knowing that his beloved queen was Jewish). If carried out, the order would have eliminated virtually every Israelite on the face of the earth—and with it, the Messianic line, in which lay the salvation of the whole human race.
So God sent the king a case of insomnia—which he tried to cure by reading a dry history book—the chronicles of his kingdom. He was thus reminded of Mordecai’s life-saving tip, and he realized that nothing had ever been done to reward him. In a hilarious scene, Haman came to the court to ask the king’s permission to hang his nemesis Mordecai on a gallows he’d had made for the purpose. But before he could get a word out, Ahasuerus asked Haman’s advice on what should be done to honor a deserving man. Haman, presuming the king was talking about him, suggested that the honoree should be paraded with pomp and ceremony through the city square, wearing the king’s royal robe and sitting astride the king’s own horse, led by one of the king’s most noble princes. So the king said to Haman, “Great idea! Go now and do that for Mordecai.” Let’s just say, it wasn’t the happiest day of Haman’s life.
Risking her own life, Esther had approached the king without having been summoned. Fortunately, he welcomed her. She asked that he, with Haman, attend a banquet at which she would ask him for a favor. When they arrived, she asked the king to grant her request—that she, with her people, be spared from the death sentence that Haman had tricked him into approving. Finally realizing how he had been manipulated by the cringing bureaucrat, the livid king had Haman hanged on his own gallows. Then, learning for the first time of the adoptive relationship between Mordecai and Esther, the king elevated Mordecai to Haman’s former status, and gave him the authority to countermand his previous order of annihilation against the Jews. They—and we—were saved.
There are dozens of important lessons in there. I would like to mention only one, in the context of our present subject. The relationship that was formed when Mordecai adopted the orphaned Esther was the vehicle through which the salvation of Israel was accomplished. Ponder this: what would have happened if Mordecai had not stepped up to serve as Esther’s father? What would have happened if Esther had not honored her cousin’s wise counsel (as she would have her birth father)? Both adopter and adoptee played immeasurably significant roles in this saga, but none of it would (or could) have happened—none of the communication, the counsel, or the consent—if Mordecai had not adopted Esther.
No doubt the most important adoptive role of all fell to Joseph, the betrothed husband of Mary, the mother of Yahshua. Christ’s genealogy through Joseph, His legal father, ends with this entry: “And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ….” We previously discussed why Joseph’s lineage was prophetically crucial.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” Mary was pregnant, and he knew he wasn’t the father. That inconvenient fact might have earned Mary the death penalty by stoning. But Joseph loved her, and wished her no harm, no matter how “bad” it looked. “But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit….’” Hearing that from Mary was one thing; getting confirmation from an angel of God was something else entirely.
“‘And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us….’” Jesus/Yahshua, of course, means “Yahweh is Salvation,” and Immanuel means “God with us.” Who knew that when God said, “the virgin shall bear a son,” He meant that a virgin would bear a son? Yahweh’s use of symbols and metaphors is so pervasive, we’re sometimes taken aback when the “impossible” things He predicts turn out to be straightforward, literal descriptions of future events.
“Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her [i.e., have sexual relations with her] till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:16, 18-23, quoting Isaiah 7:14) Thus reassured of Mary’s innocence, Joseph was all too happy to let people assume that he was the child’s father. The Torah had stated (in Deuteronomy 22:28-29) that he who had had sex with an unbetrothed virgin must marry her (at her father’s discretion), pay the dowry, and never divorce. But Joseph was betrothed to Mary when she became pregnant. Wedding ceremony or not, sexual intercourse was, for all intents and purposes, what consummated a marriage for a betrothed couple. So Joseph was the only one who had to be convinced that the Child’s biological Father was indeed the Holy Spirit—God Himself.
It is my opinion that part of Yahweh’s “selection” (or is that preparation) of Mary to be the mother of the Messiah included her betrothal to a godly, loving man—one who could be counted upon to protect her, adopt her Son as his own, and train Him up in the reverence and admonition of Yahweh until He was old enough to figure things out for Himself. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Joseph was a direct descendant of David through Solomon, as required in scripture. As usual, God’s orchestration of the scene, with its myriad of moving parts, is positively awe inspiring.
These scriptural examples of adoption, then, establish the fact that God is not hung up on physical relationships—that He is happy to use symbolic surrogates if it helps us to understand what our relationship with Him can be like. The fact is, He Himself is said—dozens of times in the Word—to be the “adoptive” Father of those who honor Him. Not surprisingly, the first place we see this principle established is with Israel. And as we have observed time after time, Israel is a prophetic and symbolic microcosm for the whole world: what happens among the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a picture of what can take place among humanity at large—the good, the bad, and the ugly of it.
So we see Yahweh, through Moses, describing His relationship with Israel to Pharaoh: “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says Yahweh: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me.” (Exodus 4:22-23) It’s not a biological relationship, of course—not like Yahweh’s relationship with Yahshua. But even Pharaoh could understand the principle of adoption—of a God (even One he had never heard of) declaring a family several million strong to be His “son.” Of course, this put Pharaoh in a precarious position: he and his fathers had enslaved and mistreated these people for their own purposes. His reaction to Moses’ demand would depend entirely on his assessment of the claim that Yahweh was actually a god. (The concept that He was the only God never would have occurred to him.) Was Moses bluffing? Well, there was one way to find out. What’s the Egyptian word for “oops”?
A later prophet would speak Yahweh’s mind on the matter: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.” (Hosea 11:1) Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’ve never even heard of a deity (other than Yahweh) who is said to “love” people. Sure, pagan pantheons have “gods of love” (like the Greco-Roman Cupid, Eros, Venus, and Aphrodite, the Hindus’ Pavarti and Krishna, or the Egyptians’ own goddess Hathor), but they are depicted as deities of desire, passion, and erotic love. That is, they (according to the brochure) promote sex, not selfless unconditional love in the Judeo-Christian sense. You don’t form a parent-child relationship with a “love goddess.”
If Israel was the “son” of God, he would be expected to act differently than the surrounding pagan nations. So Moses wrote, “You are the children of Yahweh your God; you shall not cut yourselves nor shave the front of your head for the dead. For you are a holy people to Yahweh your God, and Yahweh has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 14:1-2) The admonition was that if one is “adopted” by Yahweh, he is not to emulate the children of other “gods” in order to fit in with the godless world. Today, that might translate into not getting tattoos (actually, this was specifically prohibited in the Torah), body piercings, extreme hair styles, or “fashion statements” ranging from being unnecessarily sexually provocative to “prison chic” styles like letting your pants droop. There’s nothing particularly “holy” about dressing forty (or four hundred) years out of date, you understand. But slavish trend-following in fashion or grooming is counterproductive for the believer. It sends the wrong message: it says, “I care about what the world thinks of me.”
Again: “Then Moses and the priests, the Levites, spoke to all Israel, saying, ‘Take heed and listen, O Israel: This day you have become the people of Yahweh your God. Therefore you shall obey the voice of Yahweh your God, and observe His commandments and His statutes which I command you today.” (Deuteronomy 27:9-10) Israel is described here as the “people” of Yahweh. The Hebrew word is am, meaning a congregated unit, a tribe—a family of sorts is implied. The word is based on verb amam, meaning “to match.” God’s people “match” Him—they are a perfect fit, and should therefore conform to His opinion and counsel as to how to order their lives—observing His commandments, just as adopted children assimilate into their new families. It’s no longer a question of who you are, but Whose.
Adopted children take the family name of their new parents. And in the same way, believers take on the name of our God. “Yahweh will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of Yahweh your God and walk in His ways. Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of Yahweh, and they shall be afraid of you.” (Deut. 28:9-10) The concept of a “name” in Hebrew implies a bit more than “what you are called.” Shem also denotes one’s character or reputation. So if we want to be associated with Yahweh by outsiders, we must endeavor to do what He says. Otherwise, how could they possibly know who (and Whose) we are? Boiled down to essential terms, we are to show our love for God by loving others as we do ourselves. That alone will identify us as members of “Yahweh’s family.” By the way, “be afraid” here is a poor translation. The word is yare: people who perceive that we are “called by the name of Yahweh” will (or should) stand in awe of us, show us reverence and honor. It’s the same word used to describe the “fear” we are to show toward God: not terror, but respect.
Unfortunately, Israel did not consistently “keep the commandments of Yahweh,” and the nations therefore failed to stand in awe of either God or His people. And the Jews were as a result eventually (and temporarily) banished from the Land He had given them. But Solomon had been promised, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14) Yahweh’s character—something that was supposed to be recapitulated in the lives of His people—included compassion in the face of repentance. And we are assured in hundreds of places that Israel, as a nation, will repent, admitting their error toward Yahweh and His Messiah, and be reconciled to Him as formerly prodigal children—an event yet in our future.
Israel has in its rebellion been scattered far and wide throughout the earth. But their eventual repatriation as God’s adopted children is a prophetic fait accompli. “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ And to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’ Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for My glory.” (Isaiah 43:6-7) Once again: (1) we are “called by the name of Yahweh” if we keep His commandments; (2) the essence of these commandments is that we love God and our fellow man; (3) and the result of this love is that Yahweh (not to mention His people) will be glorified.
At the apex of their rebellion, Yahweh instructed the prophet Hosea to call Israel Lo-Ammi (“Not My People”). But even then, he pointed out the light at the end of the tunnel: “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’” (Hosea 1:10) That’s the transition that every sane person desires to make: from being estranged from God to being His adopted children. It’s the reason man is such a “religious” creature: knowing his sin, he naturally craves reconciliation and peace with his Creator. It’s a shame that we so often refuse to simply take Yahweh’s word for how that might be achieved, preferring instead to invent our own schemes and strategies. But doing things God’s way is the very picture of adoption. It transforms total strangers into beloved family members.
“God’s way,” however, is somewhat counterintuitive. What man’s religions invariably miss is that our Creator is a holy God, sinless, perfect, and infinite—while man is not. So if we are to stand in His presence as adopted children, we must first be separated from our sin—the essence of holiness. The only way that can be achieved is through the shedding of innocent blood—one life being given to redeem (buy back) another. If our fallen condition is discounted (as in the religions of man), then our pursuit of peace with God becomes a pitiful and inadequate caricature of reality. We try to “buy God off” with worthless trinkets—alms, piety, rituals, and good works (or in the case of Islam, bad works, since Allah is said to demand that conscience bow before jihad). If Yahweh weren’t so compassionate, He’d find our religious pretensions insulting.
No, a holy God requires innocence—the one thing we cannot give Him, for we are fallen, sinful creatures: we have missed the target of moral perfection. The Torah had codified the concept of atoning (sin-covering) blood from innocent animal sacrifices. Until Yahshua’s passion, however, no one seemed to realize that they were but symbolic pictures of God’s real plan for our redemption and reconciliation. At one of His “trials,” “Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.’ Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad.” (John 11:49-52)
Caiaphas, of course, wasn’t consciously referring to the Torah at all. He wasn’t thinking in terms of atonement for sins, but of killing Yahshua so the Romans wouldn’t overreact to the presence of Israel’s “God and King” in Judea with legions of soldiers with orders to quash this affront to imperial pretensions. It was, however, as if Yahweh had put words in his mouth: it was expedient that one Man should die so the whole nation—the whole world—wouldn’t have to. John rightly notes that Christ’s self-sacrifice would “gather together in one the children of God.” And what is this “one”? It’s the ekklesia, the “church,” the called-out assembly of the Messiah, comprised of both Jews and gentiles for whom Yahshua died, every one of them an adopted child of God.
Could this largely unforeseen assembly of believers be what the prophet Isaiah was talking about? “You are our Father, though Abraham was ignorant of us, and Israel does not acknowledge us. You, O Yahweh, are our Father. Our Redeemer from Everlasting is Your name.” (Isaiah 63:16) No one was ever redeemed (in any permanent, spiritual sense) until Yahshua “gathered together in one the children of God.” In the act of buying us back from the bondage of sin (through His death, burial, and resurrection), Yahshua made it possible for Yahweh to be our Father. Our trust in Him is what forges the adoptive relationship.
That’s why Yahshua said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15) The one thing that characterized little children more than any other is their innocent willingness to trust. They’re not suspicious when kindness is shown to them, and they never try to earn their place in the family: they simply receive the gift.
It came as something of a shock to many in Israel that although salvation came through the Jews (as promised to Abraham), it did not come exclusively to them. “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:11-13) Just because Israel was introduced to Pharaoh as “God’s son,” it does not mean that Yahweh would have only one such child. We all have the opportunity, the right, to be adopted into Yahweh’s family. But only those who receive Him as a child does—who believe in His name (Yahshua: “Yahweh is Salvation”)—actually become God’s adopted children. In a direct repudiation of manmade religion, John states that the relationship cannot be accomplished through the efforts of our flesh, no matter how much we may want it. You can’t buy salvation; you can only receive it as a gift.
Paul explains it: “[Yahshua] chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.” (Ephesians 1:3-6) That’s how it’s supposed to work. God reaches out to us in compassion and grace; and we are counted as blameless if we but receive his outstretched hand—even if we’re not quite strong enough to hold onto it all the time.
There’s a parallel in the human adoption process. When my wife and I were adopting children, we “predestined” them to be a part of our forever family before they even knew what was going on. We chose the child, initiated the process, did the paperwork, submitted to the background checks, paid the fees, and then waited expectantly until the child could come home to us. With the older children, however, it was always theoretically possible that they would reject their new adoptive home. No, it’s more than theoretical. Once it actually happened. We desired to adopt a sibling group—two brothers and a sister in the foster system who had been abused and abandoned by their birth parents.
After many months of work and prayer, they finally came to live in their new home—the one they all said they wanted. Jimmy, Robbie, and Gina were given the right to become the children of Ken and Gayle Power—just like all of those other kids were. All they had to do was receive the gift. But once in our home, they instantly developed a fortress mentality, stubbornly insulating themselves from both us and their new brothers and sisters. We were crushed and saddened, but we would have persevered—forcing their acceptance to whatever extent was possible and hoping for the best—were it not for their open and violent antagonism toward our other children. They never assimilated, and we never finalized the adoption. After a few miserable months, they were back in the foster care system, having unilaterally rejected the last, best hope they ever had for a normal life in a loving family.
The whole episode is painful to recount, but I can’t help but reflect that Yahweh deals with this sort of thing all the time. People know they’re lost and without hope, so they reach out to God—not the real One, though, but a god of their own imagination. Remember what Moses had said? “Yahweh will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of Yahweh your God and walk in His ways.” We can only be Yahweh’s people if we “keep His commandments.” And although I’m extrapolating, I’d venture to say that Yahweh would have been happy if we had merely tried to keep His precepts, if we had done our best. After all, He had instituted sin and trespass offerings to reestablish fellowship in the case of our screw-ups—they were expected.
It’s not as if our other adopted children were perfect—far from it. But they accepted Mom and I as their parents, found their place in the family, and treated their new siblings with the respect that was due them as family members. For them, our family became a microcosm of the kingdom of heaven.
I realize the whole “predestination” thing is hard to reconcile with freedom of choice. But the adoption process makes it easier to understand. My wife and I “predestined” certain children to become part of our family. (If we had been like God—with unlimited resources, wisdom, and foreknowledge—I supposed we would have “predestined” every needy orphan child to be ours.) But as our little disaster with the sibling group demonstrated, predestination is not the same thing as compulsion. It merely codifies our intent, our willingness, and our efforts toward the goal. It does not overrule its object’s free will.
God, of course, has something my wife and I do not: perfect foreknowledge. He knows what we will choose to do—before we even do it. He knows, without abridging our freedom of choice, which of us will accept His “offer of adoption,” and who will not. He “predestines” all of us to be His children, in the sense that He, so to speak, “initiated the process, did the paperwork, submitted to the background checks, paid the fees, and then waited expectantly for us.” His love is even more amazing in this light: He sent His Son to redeem the whole human race—not just those whom He foresaw would repent and receive His awesome offer, but all of us. It boggles the mind: Christ’s blood was shed for the likes of Adolph Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, and the coming Antichrist!
Those few of us who chose to stay, to become part of His family, got more than we bargained for: “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30) That’s right: we get to be the adopted brothers and sisters of the Messiah Himself. Seven of my adopted kids were Asian by birth, but although they always looked different than my Anglo-Saxon firstborn son, I’m pretty sure they grew up more “like” him than they did their biological relatives in matters such as personality, speech patterns, values, and attitudes. Why? Because my eldest got those traits from his mother and I. In the same way, Yahshua the Messiah is the very image (in flesh) of Father Yahweh. So we, His adopted siblings, end up “looking” more like Christ than we do our worldly neighbors. Or at least we should.
For all of adoption’s legal ramifications, it’s not merely a business deal or a contract. It creates relationships, family bonds, where none existed before: “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father….’” “Abba” is a term of intimate endearment for one’s father, like calling him “papa” or “daddy.” As most fathers will attest, the most rewarding thing in life is to have our small children greet us with unfeigned enthusiastic happiness, with genuine joy: “Papa’s home!” That’s the sort of relationship our adoption as Yahweh’s children creates: a happy, secure, confident, and loving connection. What kind of sick mind would prefer his children to greet him by groveling before him, bowing down in obsequious obeisance like some terrified slave? Yet 1.6 billion Muslims are required to greet their god just like that—five times a day. No wonder they blow things up.
Paul also speaks of being “led by the Spirit of God” as a condition of being His adopted sons. As children, we are “led” by our parents, so this is the same thing Yahshua referred to when (in John 3) He spoke of “being born of the Spirit.” There, the issue was called “entering the kingdom of God.” Different imagery, same truth. “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Romans 8:14-17) The use of the word “Spirit” here can be confusing, for the same Greek word (pneuma) carries several shades of meaning (as we saw in Volume 1). In this case, “The Holy Spirit—Yahweh’s presence indwelling within the lives of believers—testifies with our spirit—‘the vital principal by which the body is animated; the rational…power by which the human being feels, thinks, and decides’ (Strong’s)—that we are children of God. The point is that the Holy Spirit (functioning as the mother in a temporal adoption) is a vital, essential participant in our adoption as God’s children. As John put it, “Now he who keeps [Christ’s] commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” (I John 3:24)
And then there is the “inheritance” factor. “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.” (Galatians 4:4-7) My adopted children are named in my will, equal in legal status with their “home-grown” brothers. (I hope they’re not counting on inheriting much.) As God’s adopted children, we receive the same promise: although we’re not His firstborn (a subject I’ll cover separately), we are “in the will.” Our inheritance begins with a little trinket called eternal life, and works its way down from there. (For a quick overview, see Revelation 21 and 22. It’s pretty spectacular.) But for my money, the best inheritance of all is the privilege of sharing an intimate familial relationship with our heavenly Abba—forever.
My adopted kids came from all over the place. And in the same way, there is no geographical, racial, or gender exclusivity with God’s adopted children. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:26-29) Since Yahweh made His offer of salvation to all mankind, anyone can join the family. All he (or she) has to do is choose to become His child—something that by its very nature requires faith.
This trusting belief is the same thing that Abraham displayed, a faith that was counted as righteousness by God. This concept cannot be overstated: Abraham wasn’t righteous in his own power—certainly not righteous enough to stand before a holy God as His adopted child. The record states that he screwed up all the time—just as you and I do. It was his faith in Yahweh’s promise—a faith he never actually saw come fully to fruition in his lifetime—that God reckoned as virtue. So when asked, “‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.’” (John 6:28-29) It’s the faith of Abraham again, defining us as being in Abraham’s extended family—the family of God. (It has nothing to do with “becoming Jewish” or inheriting the promises Yahweh made to Israel. The church—the ekklesia, the called-out assembly of Christ—has its own precious promises, different from Israel’s national assurances.)
Stated another way, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.” (I John 5:1-2) Belief (i.e., trusting reliance) is crucial. But object of that faith must be the one God Himself ordained—Yahshua the Messiah, Jesus Christ—not a “messiah” of our own imagination. False christs are rampant—especially in these Last Days. We can’t say we weren’t warned.
Part of being a child in a family is that somebody is going to be telling you what to do. If you characterize this as “bondage” or “abuse,” you need to get out more. The alternative to parental control is anarchy, or worse—homelessness, poverty, and insecurity. It’s no different with God’s family: “‘For whom Yahweh loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’ If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?” (Hebrews 12:6-9; cf. Proverbs 3:11-12)
One of Satan’s more destructive lies in these Last Days is that “children have rights, so it’s wrong to discipline them.” The only right they have is to be loved—unconditionally. Loving parents raise their children; they train them, guide them, discipline them, and show them through word and deed how best to live their lives. Nor does Yahweh adopt us only to let us “raise” ourselves like feral cats. He trains us through His Word and our circumstances to be good citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven. And yes, God has been known to “spank” His children. It’s for our own good.
Being willing to receive God’s correction and discipline—along with whatever the world dishes out—is part of what it means to be Yahweh’s adopted children. “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life.” (Philippians 2:14-16) How we hold up under stress (whether or not it is deserved) is a good indicator of how “grown-up” we’re becoming.
We tend to get confused, however, because Yahweh does not discipline other people’s children. Makes sense: we don’t chastise the neighbors’ kids, either—just our own. It’s true that vengeance belongs to Yahweh alone, and His wrath will eventually (on His own schedule—and soon, it would appear) visit the earth. But in the present age, God “sends the rain on both the just and the unjust.” That is, He provides for everyone equally, for all of us have an open invitation to become His adopted children. He offers neither bribes nor threats to persuade folks to accept His offer of grace. Rather, the “bad things” that so often happen to lost and evil men are as often as not the natural result of violating God’s law—not proactive punishment on God’s part.
Nor does God’s love for His children necessarily result in their temporal advantage, whether wealth, health, or “good luck.” There are natural blessings to be gained by simply living according to God’s counsel (see Deuteronomy 28, for example). But the advantages we gain by being His children are (in this world, anyway) more intangible in nature: peace, contentment, joy, hope, and confidence—no matter what our physical circumstances are at the moment. The tangible blessings are mostly reserved for the next world, the next life—and as such are a matter of faith. John says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (I John 3:1-3)
A few verses later, he points out something we saw before—that you can often assess who one’s spiritual “parents” are, simply by observing their behavior: “In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” (I John 3:10-11) That is, believers’ spiritual adoptive “parents,” Yahweh and the Holy Spirit, have trained us to be like them: loving and righteous. Illegitimate sons get no such instruction.
In the Beatitudes, Yahshua gave us further insight into what it means to be an adopted son (or daughter) of God. He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Richard M. Nixon once said, “In the long term we can hope that religion will change the nature of man and reduce conflict. But history is not encouraging in this respect. The bloodiest wars in history have been religious wars.” And if you come to terms with the fact that atheism—secular humanism—is a religion in every sense of the word, the fact becomes abundantly clear that being religious (man’s unilateral quest for god) is the antithesis of Christ’s definition of being a “son of God.” If we are truly Yahweh’s adopted children, our actions will precipitate peace, not conflict. We will react to evil with love, not hatred. And no, I’m not saying we should not defend ourselves—only that “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger…. A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit…. A wrathful man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger allays contention.” (Proverbs 15:1, 4, 18)
Same song, second verse: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45) A parallel recounting reads, “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36) Yahshua states that the evidence of our being “Sons of the Most High, the Heavenly Father” is our love in the face of hatred, our good in the presence of evil, our willingness to give in the absence of any possibility of compensation, and our mercy when there is no earthly reason to extend forgiveness. The only reason someone might do these counterintuitive things is that we’ve seen our Father Yahweh do them. The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree.
Finally, the risen Christ told John toward the end of His revelation, “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.” (Revelation 21:7) Overcomes what? Earlier in the vision, He had promised that “he who overcomes” would “not be hurt by the second death,” would receive “the hidden manna to eat,” and would have “power over the nations.” He would be “clothed in white garments” indicating imputed righteousness, would be a “pillar in the temple of God,” and would sit with Christ on His throne. These are all further indications that the overcomer is an adopted child of God, for he has become like His Father. What, then, has he overcome? The world and its values: “Whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:4-5)
Christ’s contrasting admonition further details what must (and will) be “overcome” if one has truly become a son of God. “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8) (Revelation 21:7-8) I don’t know about you, but that list gives me cold chills, for I have been many of those things, in thought if not in deed, at one time or another in my life. I overcame none of them in my own strength, in my effort and sincere desire to “be a good person.” Am I therefore doomed to eternity in the lake of fire for the sin of being a fallen human being? Is everything we’ve learned about grace and forgiveness a cruel and hollow hoax?
No. Allow me to back up a couple of verses, for therein lies the key. “He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’ And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.’” (Revelation 21:5-6) First, the One making the promises has the authority. Second, “all things” includes me—I have been made new through my faith, unlike those who are still accounted “cowardly, unbelieving,” and all the rest. Third, God cannot lie. Fourth, His work (redeeming me—and hopefully you—from sin) is complete. Fifth, our redeemer is eternal, and His power is unlimited. Sixth, He has promised to give us the water of life, which is synonymous with the Holy Spirit (See John 4:10-14), the symbolic agent of restoration and cleansing. And seventh, He offers us this living water, the Holy Spirit, freely, without cost (at least on our part); we have only to receive it. The choice is ours.
Only then does He say, “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.” The “overcoming,” then, is—like everything else of value in our lives—a gift from God. It is Yahweh, and not we ourselves, who makes us His adopted sons. Why would any sane person reject such an offer—to become the representative and heir of the very Creator of the universe?