The Creed – Part 15C

“… And on the third day He rose again, according to the scriptures.”

As we have seen in the last two articles, the Old Testament is filled with prophecies that are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. The prophecies are obviously in verbal form. However, in addition to these there are actions or events in the Old Testament which point forward to Jesus Christ and other aspects of the Christian faith.
For example, Moses encounters a bush that was burning and not consumed (Exodus 3:2).
“And Moses said, “I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.”
The Fathers usually says that this points forward to the perpetual virginity of the Mother of God who gave birth but never ceased to be a virgin. In the story of the Exodus when the Jewish people were escaping slavery in Egypt, Moses parts the waters of the Red Sea so that the Hebrews could escape (Exodus 14:21-22).
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.”
In other words, the Jewish people were saved by descending into the waters and coming out of them. This prefigures baptism, when we are saved by doing down into the water of the baptismal font. We remember that when the Jewish people were in the desert they were short of food so God sent them manna from heaven to earth (Exodus 16:13-15).
“In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning dew lay round about the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as hoarfrost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat.”
This miraculous food which nourished the Jewish people physically points forward to Holy Communion when we receive another kind of bread from heaven. In another incident in the Book of Exodus the Jews were fighting with Amalek and his soldiers. Moses was watching the battle from a hill. Whenever Moses lifted up his hands the Jews were winning against Amalek. But when he lowered his hand the forces of Amalek prevailed. Moses’ armd grew tired so two men held up his arms on each side (Exodus 17:12).
“But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”
Moses outstretched arms which gave victory to Israel over its enemies point forward to Christ’s victory on the cross when we are saved from our enemies by Christ who stretches his arms out on the cross.
All of these examples so far have come from the Book of Exodus. This is because this book is about Israel’s escape from slavery in Egypt and this whole book points forward to our escape from the slavery of sin, death and the devil through Jesus Christ.
One final example: we remember the story of Jonah who was cast into the sea and swallowed by a great fish (Jonah 1:17, 2:1-2, 10).
And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, “I called to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and thou didst hear my voice. And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”
In other words, just as Jonah emerged from the fish after three days Jesus Christ came out of the depths of the earth after three days. In these last three articles we have seen how the Old Testament points forward to the New Testament in prophesies and prefiguring events. There are many more prophesies and events than those mentioned here so further study of the Old Testament with the help of a study bible can help us to understand our faith better.

Fr. John

The Creed – Part 15B

“… And on the third day He rose again, according to the scriptures.”

As mentioned previously, many prophesies of the Old Testament which Christians see as pointing toward Jesus Christ and not seen that way by the Jews. This is especially true of passages relating to the suffering of Christ and His meaning for all people.
We remember that God promised to send a Messiah, a redeemer for all human beings. However, by the time of Jesus Christ many of the Jews saw the Messiah as a political, even military, figure who would cast the Roman occupiers out of Palestine and found a Jewish kingdom there. Many people in Jerusalem thought that Jesus Christ was going to do this on Palm Sunday. As our Lord enters Jerusalem
“Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mt 21:8-9)
However, as the days passed and Jesus didn’t throw the Romans out, the crowds turned against Him.
“… Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man whom you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” (Mk 15:12-13)
So Jesus Christ was not the national Messiah of the Jews, a political Messiah. As mentioned previously, Jesus saw his role of Messiah as that of the suffering servant. To see how Jesus Christ thought of his role, read chapter 53 of the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament. Here are some quotations from this chapter:
“For thus says the Lord: “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money. For thus says the Lord God: My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them for nothing. Now therefore what have I here, says the Lord, seeing that my people are taken away for nothing? Their rulers wail, says the Lord, and continually all the day my name is despised.” (Isaiah 53: 3-5)
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice, together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 53: 7-9)
Beyond this, Jesus Christ thought of Himself as Messiah for all nations. In doing so, he fulfilled many predictions of the Old Testament about just such a figure.
“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. “(Isaiah 2:2-3)
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
“For I know their works and their thoughts, and I am coming to gather all nations and tongues; and they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands afar off, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations.” (Isaiah 66:18-19)
As we can see from these passages, Jesus Christ saw his role as fulfilling these universalist predictions, being the savior for all of humanity.
The other issue is that the Jews rejected the idea that the Messiah would suffer, although there are many Old Testament prophesies which point to it. As mentioned previously, to understand Jesus role as the suffering servant one should read Isaiah 53.
The notion of a suffering Messiah was so alien to the Jews that when Jesus Christ predicted he would be crucified this announcement went completely over the Apostles’ heads. This is why when Jesus was crucified all the disciples, with the exception of St. John and the women disciples, ran away and went into hiding. It was  only after the Resurrection that the apostles began to understand the Messiah as a suffering servant.

Fr. John

The Creed – Part 15A

“… And on the third day He rose again, according to the scriptures.”

Let us begin by taking the second half of this line first. Our English word ‘scripture’ comes from the Latin word for something which is written. For Christians, the scriptures are divided into two parts, the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament begins with the creation of the world and of human beings, and the fall of Adam and Eve. It continues through the time of the Patriarchs, beginning with Abraham. We read about Moses and the Exodus and the entrance into the Holy Land. There is the Book of Psalms, which is the prayer book for synagogue and church. Finally we read the books of the prophets who announce God’s will for the Jewish people (and us), either criticizing or comforting.
The New Testament begins with the Gospels, telling of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Book of Acts tells us the history of the early church and the Epistles are letters written to various communities and individuals in the early church. The last book of the New Testament is the Book of Revelation. People often think of this book as a book of prophecies about the end times. It is this, but it is also a book of comfort for Christians of any age suffering for their love for Christ.
We should note that the Jews do not use the term “Old Testament”. This is because they do not accept the “New Testament” view of Jesus Christ, so what we call the Old Testament is simply the Bible or the Hebrew scriptures for them.
Throughout the Old Testament there are many prophesies of the Messiah, i.e. Jesus Christ. The Hebrew word Messiah means “the anointed one”. The Greek equivalent of this is “Christ”, from the Greek word “Christos”. In the Old Testament prophets, priests and kings were anointed with oil before they began the service. It implies a special commission from God and Jesus Christ fulfills their roles. The author of the New Testament thought it was very important to show how Jesus Christ fulfilled these prophesies through his words and deeds, so we often encounter the phrase “This was to fulfill what was spoken [by the prophets]…”
This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” (Mt 8:17)
For example, Psalm 16:10 and Psalm 49:15 are understood in the church to refer to Christ’s resurrection, which is this specific prophesy referred to in the line of the Creed.
But there prophesies of Jesus Christ right in the very beginning of the Bible. For example in Genesis 3:15,
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Which comes after the sin of Adam and Eve. In this verse about the woman and the seed, the seed of the woman is Jesus Christ and the seed of the serpent is the devil. The Old Testament in many places makes it clear that the Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David. It is also prophesied that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. As Isaiah 7:14 tells us, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” We see fulfilled in Matthew 1:22-23, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel’ (which means, God with us).”
There are literally hundreds of places in the Old Testament which point forward to Jesus Christ. But we have to understand that this is a Christian reading of the Old Testament. For the Jews these prophecies do not refer to Jesus Christ. However, when we, as Christians, read the Old Testament we read it from the point of view of the New Testament as interpreted in the Church. So for example, the Jews don’t think that the above mentioned verse from Isaiah refers to the virgin birth of the Messiah. For them it has various other interpretations.
In general, there are many prophesies in the Old Testament that depict the suffering of the Messiah. The Jews do not interpret these texts as prophesies of the Messiah, as we shall see in the next article.

Fr. John

The Creed – Part 14B

“… And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate and suffered and was buried.”

Jesus came into the world to save us and He knew that meant he would suffer and die. Jesus, although He had a genuine human body, was not subject to death because he was sinless. He allowed Himself to die to save us. We should remember that false teachers arose in the church who said that Jesus only appeared to suffer and die but in reality He did not suffer. This is actually similar to the Moslem view of Jesus’ death. The Moslems cannot believe that a prophet like Jesus could die on the cross. Some Moslems believe that God gave another person the appearance of Jesus and he died in Jesus’ place. There are other theories but they come down to the refusal to believe that Jesus actually suffered. But the Church knew from the beginning that His suffering and death were real and opposed that false teaching.
Jesus’ suffering and death were part of God’s plan from the beginning and it was prophesied in the book of Isaiah. In chapter Isaiah 53:3-5 we read
“He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.”
Scholars and church fathers alike believed that Jesus knew he was fulfilling this prophecy. It must be admitted that the Jewish people do not believe this passage is a prophecy about the Messiah because they do not believe that the Messiah would suffer. The book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament says
“…his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God; you shall not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance   (Deuteronomy 21:23)
This is quoted in the New Testament
‘…Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us — for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree”  (Gal 3:13).
Both passages express the Jewish view that a crucified man could not be the Messiah. However, we as Christians affirm that Jesus’ suffering and death were part of God’s plan for the redemption of the human race. Jesus’ suffering was predicted to the Virgin Mary when she and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple. The elder Simeon said
“…and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35).
Jesus Himself knew he would suffer and predicted it to his apostles. For example
As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed.” Mt 17:22-23
And
“… for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him. “ (Mark 9:31-32)
However, no matter how many times He predicted His suffering and death the apostles did not really accept this until the resurrection. At one point the apostle James and John asked Jesus for positions of power in the Kingdom they thought He was going to establish. Jesus asked
“But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;…( Mark 10:38-39).
The cup and baptism, of course, refer to Jesus’ suffering and death, but the apostles did not understand that at that time. Finally we should look at the agony in the garden when Jesus prayed before his arrest. In Matthew 26:38-19 we read:
Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
In other words, although Jesus Christ is the Son of God who suffered voluntarily in His humanity, He knew the pain he would endure and prayed that God the Father would strengthen Him. So we know that we are saved by Christ’s suffering and death “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”  (I Peter 2:24), a death that conquered death and gives us eternal life.

Fr. John

The Creed – Part 14A

“… And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate and suffered and was buried.”

Who was Pontius Pilate? He was a Roman bureaucrat, procurator (governor) of the Roman province of Judea at the time of Christ. He was a mid-level official and had a lackluster career. The question becomes “why is this Roman bureaucrat in the Creed”? After all, the Creed is a precise, elegant statement of Orthodox dogma. The reason he is in the Creed is to anchor our faith in history. In other words, Christianity is rooted in history in a way other religions are not. For example, Buddhism teaches an eight-fold path to reach enlightenment. According to Buddhists, if one follows this path one will be enlightened. In other words, the important thing in Buddhism is the path. The truth or falsehood of Buddhism does not depend on the details of Buddha’s life.
Things are otherwise in Christianity. Much of the ethical teaching of Jesus can be found in Jewish or pagan sources. What is most important for Christianity depends on who Christ is. When we say that Christianity (and Judaism before it) we mean that God acted, intervened in historical events. For example, after the fall of Adam and Eve, God chose Abraham to make his covenant with, promising Abraham and his descendants God’s special care if they obeyed His commandments. Centuries later when Moses led the Jewish people out of the slavery of Egypt, he gave them the Law and a covenant on Mount Sinai. In the centuries following Moses, God sent prophets to the Jewish people telling them that the Messiah was coming and they should prepare for his coming by following the Law. Of course, we as Christians affirm that Jesus Christ is that promised Messiah. The history of salvation reaches its fulfilment in Jesus Christ. As important as Jesus’ teaching is, our faith and salvation depends on the historical truth of the Gospel narratives. More particularly, acted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In his resurrection Jesus fundamentally overcame the power of sin, death and the devil, giving eternal life to those who follow him. The point is, if Jesus Christ did not really dies and rise again our faith is meaningless. As Saint Paul writes: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor 15:17) This is why Christian (and other) scholars study the New Testament from the historical point of view. If one is not used to reading historical criticism one may be shocked by the scholarly approach to the Gospels, but the fact of the matter is that after centuries of intense study of literally every word in the Gospel, historical criticism has found nothing that would undermine our faith. Sometimes when one reads or hears skeptical scholars in the popular media, one might find them criticizing the historical basis of the Gospel, especially of the resurrection. However, the substance of their conclusions comes down to a simple refusal to believe that God can act in history. If one does not have this preconceived bias, the historical truth of Christ’s resurrection is quite clear.
The inclusion of Pontius Pilate in our Creed is a reminder for all time that God decisively, in a small corner of the Roman Empire, was the place of God’s supreme act in history of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Fr. John