Theology Thursdays: The Dead Sea Scrolls, Prophecy and Messiah XIV

In his book, Is It Possible That The Honorable Elijah Muhammad Is Still Physically Alive???, scriptural scientist Jabril Muhammad writes, "Since, as the Messenger taught, Jesus was mostly a sign of two men and a people, there has got to be a tie in (or connection) between the fate of Jesus and the fate of those of whom he served as a sign."

In using the title "Messenger" the author is referring to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. In his book he gives greater context to his statement, from the scriptures, history and personal experience.

To me the idea that mostly two men and a people are written of, or described and referred to, under the name or sign of "Jesus", is related to what the late scholar and theologian Hugh Schonfield has publicly written about their being "Two Messiahs" (written of in the Dead Sea Scrolls) and a "messianic people" (to whom the Dead Sea Scrolls were intended for, in the last days). It is important to note that the Honorable Elijah Muhammad said that Jesus' history "was the world's most misrepresented and misunderstood."

What the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taught about "Jesus" mostly being a sign of "two men and a people" is also, in my view, related to the controversy, debated by theologians for centuries, regarding the time of the coming of the Messiah as well as whether or not the Messiah appears first, and then departs, only to return or come again.

Christian and Jewish theologians have had great arguments over whether or not the prophetic writings about the Messiah in the Old Testament refer to one man working in two distinct time periods; one man working in one time frame, in various settings; two or more men working over two distinct time frames; or two or more men working over one time period in various settings. These arguments especially center around passages in the books of Isaiah and Daniel. A good way to engage this subject for Christians would be to simply ask a local Rabbi or two exactly why the vast majority of Jews don't believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Many Jewish scholars have written on the subject in books that are available in public libraries.

[Please don't gloss over what has just been written in the paragraphs above, or take it out of context. And don't unthinkingly accept or reject it. The subject is too important and too widely debated for that. In addition, I am not writing this series, now over 13 parts, for it to be received casually or read in a vacuum. Theology and scriptural science if rooted in nature and accurate, are arguably the most complex of all sciences (As they encompass all of the others. How else could accurate predictions be made regarding human events, political circumstances, economic conditions, population growth, and weather patterns?) and should not be treated with the same attitude as one has when they have music on in the background (smile). I hope that in addition to fostering a respectful, reasoned and dignified discussion in the Dialogue Room, that the readers will print out these articles and study and discuss them with others using dictionaries and other word tools; multiple translations of the Torah, Bible and Qur'an; concordances, scriptural commentaries; and scholarly writings.]

Just out of all of these factors let's narrow the focus a bit and discuss only the time of the appearance of the Messiah, and present a respectful, introductory challenge to what is commonly believed on the subject.

Did the Messiah appear two thousand years ago?

Big question.

Over ten years ago I came across a book that had within it a writing that was called "The Gospel Of Nicodemus". The introduction to the formal writing described how this book had been taken out of a collection of books that are now part of the Bible. This process of taking the Gospel Of Nicodemus out of this collection was described as occurring well before the book we now know as the Bible was compiled. There were several other books that did not make the final cut, so to speak, when the Bible was put together in the version that Catholics, generally speaking, accept today; as well as the version that Protestants, generally speaking, accept today. The Gospel Of Nicodemus and several of these other books were, according to scholars, rejected for a variety of reasons (depending upon whose opinion one accepts). The reasons offered have varied and ranged from poor quality and the lack of authenticity, to conspiracy and a deliberate attempt to deceive humanity regarding the words of God, the prophets and Jesus. Centuries after these books, considered to be "apocryphal," were rejected; a similar controversy developed over how the King James Version of the Bible was compiled. There is a body of detailed literature on the subject of how the King James version of the Bible was put together that the vast majority of Christians have never encountered. The libraries of major universities and those of theological seminaries contain many books written about the process of how portions of today's widely-read and accepted Bibles were translated from Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Latin into English.

While the Gospel Of Nicodemus has many interesting facets to it; the portion of it, in the copy I had, that struck me the most, was the account of exactly when the Messiah would appear. Here is an excerpt of that part of the book:

"...we have found written in the book that Michael the archangel foretold to Seth the third son of Adam, that in five and a half thousands of years Christ the Son of God would come. Even until now we have told no one..."

Seth is the third son of Adam. Read Genesis 5 and you will see that according to the Bible Seth was born when Adam was 130 years old. There are numerous writings that seek to support the view that Adam lived around 6,000 years ago. If one accepts that view and what is written in the Gospel Of Nicodemus, they can see that "Christ the Son Of God" is to come somewhere in between 6,000 and 5,500 years after Adam is born. There is no appearance of the Christ before this, according to the Gospel Of Nicodemus. In the Gospel of Nicodemus this appearance, close to 6,000 years after Adam, generally includes the events that are described in the four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John regarding Jesus' birth, life, ministry and death. If one accepts the timing of the first appearance of Christ given in Gospel Of Nicodemus, then it can be argued that "Christ the Son of God" is to appear right about now and the narrative of events written of in the Gospels has just recently, is currently, or is about to take place.

Many respected scholars and theologians of Christianity argue very publicly that Jesus Christ is to appear any day now, but that this expected appearance would be his second coming. The first appearance, they argue, occurred 2,000 years ago.

But are there any passages in scripture that might cause one to question the idea that the first coming took place 2,000 years ago? I think a reasonable argument can be made in that direction.

Look at 1 John 3:8, which reads (King James version):

8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.

Did that happen 2,000 years ago, when it is said that Jesus lived? Did Jesus destroy the works of the devil or Satan? If Satan or the devil is responsible for evil works then look at all of the evil that has occurred over the last 2,000 years. One could look just at what has happened over the last 500 years to see that it is very difficult to argue that I John 3:8 occurred 2,000 years ago. The works of the devil or Satan are still among us and very visible.

Now look at Hebrews 9: 24-28 which reads (in different translations):

King James:

24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us:
25 Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;
26 For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appearedto put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:
28 So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

New International Version:

24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. 25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Other translations say that Christ appeared once at "the climax of history" or the "end of history". Remember now, this, in Hebrews 8:27 is clearly stated as referring to a first appearance. The second appearance is referred to in verse 28.

Certainly, it is difficult to argue that 2,000 years ago the "world" or "history" ended (Look into what Jehovah's Witnesses have been taught or have believed about the year 1914 as it relates to the end of the world). That does not mean that numerous people have not tried to argue such.

But, in a nutshell, the first appearance of Jesus according to the previously referenced verses in the Bible, would happen sometime closer to this century than 2,000 years ago, if one accepts that these are the "latter times"; "last days"; or generation that witnesses the fulfillment of the signs of the end of the world, described - according to major theologians - in Matthew 24.

Now consider what is written in Matthew Chapter 23 and 24 where, according to most Christian theologians, Jesus makes predictions regarding the end of the world and what scholars say is his "second coming". After describing a series of events (primarily in Matthew 24), Jesus says that what he has foretold will occur in the plain view of the generation in which he was speaking. Read verse 36 in Matthew 23 and verse 34 in Matthew chapter 24.

Matthew 23:36 reads read, "Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation. (bold is mine)"

The Contemporary English Version of the Bible translates Matthew 23:36 as:"I can promise that you people living today will be punished for all these things"

Matthew 24:34 reads: "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled (bold is mine)."

The bulk of what Jesus says in Matthew 24 is in response to a specific question from his disciples. Here is that question as it appears in the New Living Translation of Matthew 24:3, "Later, Jesus sat on the slopes of the Mount Of Olives. His disciples came to him privately and asked, "When will all this take place? And will there be any sign ahead of time to signal your return and the end of the world?"

In answering this question in great detail, Jesus, in verse 34 of Matthew 24 says that those to whom he is speaking will not pass before they see his answer to this question ("When will all this take place? And will there be any sign ahead of time to signal your return and the end of the world?") come true. That question and answer exchange was supposedly 2,000 years ago. Where are those witnesses or that generation to whom Jesus was referring to today? Is anyone alive today that was alive, and in Jesus' presence 2,000 years ago when these predictions regarding the end of the world and his return were made?

Let's look at another factor involved. Just how long is a generation?

The Greek word translated as "generation" in Matthew 24:34, according to Bible concordances is "genea". It is defined as:

1.fathered, birth, nativity

2.that which has been begotten, men of the same stock, a family
a. the several ranks of natural descent, the successive members of a genealogy
b. metaph. a group of men very like each other in endowments, pursuits, character
1. esp. in a bad sense, a perverse nation

3.the whole multitude of men living at the same time age (i.e. the time ordinarily occupied be each successive generation), a space of 30 - 33 years

The second definition of this word above has been used to support the view that Jesus was referring to something broader than a time frame, like "nation" or "family". But is that second meaning of the word more applicable than the 3rd and 4th meanings of the word? Those who say that the word "generation" has nothing to do with time, in my view, don't satisfactorily address the issue of the "international" nature of the predictions (to occur in the plain sight of the group to whom Jesus is speaking) nor do they deal with the question as to why Jesus did not use the word "nation" - if that is what he meant by "generation". The word "nation" appears numerous times in the book of Matthew. The Greek word for nation, transliterated as "ethnos" appears in the book of Matthew 14 times including three times in Matthew 24, alone ("generation" appears 10 times).

If one accepts the 3rd or 4th meanings of the word translated as "generation" they can reasonably conclude that it is difficult to say that Matthew 23 or 24 is an account of a historical event that occurred 2,000 years ago. The people spoken to in this portion of Matthew are contemporaries of Jesus, hear the preaching of the Jesus regarding world events to come, and are told they will see them come to pass before they die. These events were not fulfilled 2,000 years ago. Those who argue that these events foretold by Jesus actually happened 2,000 years ago are challenged to answer whether or not Jesus came a second time, in conjunction with said events, as he predicted. If all of these events in Matthew 24 were fulfilled and Jesus did return a second time then we would now have to be 2,000 years already into the Kingdom of God! I have never heard any Christian argue that they believed we are 2,000 years into the Kingdom of God or Hereafter. All of the Christians (who believe the Christ appeared 2,000 years ago) that I know are still expecting his second appearance. That of course, is just my personal experience.

Perhaps a better explanation of all of this can be found in viewing this portion of the scriptures in light of today's current events and the history of the last 100 years. Is it possible that we have all been reading the New Testament, even the entire Bible, looking back in time to 2,000 years ago, when the Biblical narrative is actually a word-picture or storyline of events that we are living through, right now?

If so, reflect over the implications this position has for those who believe that what is written in Genesis 15:13-14 - about God "coming" to a specific land where a specific people are enslaved to another people, for 400 years - is actually a prophecy largely fulfilled in the Western hemisphere over the last four centuries.

Remember, in the storyline Jehovah anointed two men to lead those people out of their enslaved condition (which involved more than just physical servitude).

Thursday, June 26, 2003