by Charles Whitaker (1944-2021)
We stand today at the threshold of the second half of Christ's seven-year ministry. During its first half nearly two millennia ago, many did not recognize the Messiah as He stood before them. A few did. When He returns, will we recognize Him for what He is?
One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.
So reads the law regarding witnesses, as recorded in Deuteronomy 19:15.
In II Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul puts an intriguing twist on this law. Here, two or three witnesses are not different people, but different trips. The "two or three witnesses" are successive trips he made to Corinth. Each separate trip—or more correctly, his teaching during each separate trip—stands as a witness against those who fail to receive correction. Paul's various visits to Corinth provide several witnesses against those who continue to sin.
Notice II Corinthians 13:1-2 from the Berkeley Version:
This is my third visit to you. "In the mouth of two or three witnesses every statement shall be confirmed." I said, while previously there on my second visit, and I say it before my arrival while still absent, to those who kept on in their old sins and to all the rest, that when I come once more I shall not spare.
The message is the witness. Paul understood that, over time, one person can provide a number of witnesses. One person, several witnesses! This understanding has an important application for those of us who labor in the twilight of "this present evil age" (Galatians 1:4). In part, that application is this: The Messiah is to preach the Good News—the gospel—of His Father's Kingdom in two visits; His message will take the form of two witnesses. We commonly call them His two ministries or His first and second comings.
were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. (Luke 4:28-29)
History repeats itself. When Christ soon stands to read Isaiah 61:2-3, many, unable to recognize Him as their Messiah, will respond as did the Galileans. At Christ's second "visit," His second witness, many will again be "filled with wrath" and seek to destroy Him (Revelation 19:19). How can we avoid a "strong delusion" (II Thessalonians 2:11) and ensure that we will recognize Him?
God's Word answers that question. Some of the events and people during Christ's first witness teach us about His second. John 7 tells the story of two groups that did not do the right things; as a result, they failed to recognize their Messiah. Luke 2 narrates the story of a different group whose people did the right things, and consequently, recognized Jesus as their Messiah.
The setting of John 7, Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles, shows that the people of Judea accepted Christ no more readily than those of Galilee. When Christ went to the Feast and taught (verses 10, 14), "there was a division among the people because of Him" (verse 43). Christ caused a maelstrom in the ocean of people attending the Feast. John records that two groups stood before Christ on this occasion. We will call them the Magicians and the Jingoists.
Verse 27 records their hang-up: "We know where this Man is from; but when the Christ comes, no one knows where He is from." These people must have had a penchant for magic; they thought the Messiah would simply appear out of nowhere!
Their silly idea probably sprung from misinterpreting Malachi 3:1: "And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple. . . ." To them, "suddenly" implied that no one would know from where Christ came. Matthew 13:54-57 shows that many Galileans knew that He was the carpenter's son. They were familiar with His mother and family. Word got down from Galilee to the people of Jerusalem, and they, too, knew all about Him. How, these Magicians asked, could He be the Messiah?
We understand that Malachi 3:1 means that Christ will suddenly come to His temple, the church. But these citizens of Jerusalem, not "rightly dividing" the Scripture, did not realize that Christ would have two witnesses, two ministries. He would first come in "the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7). The second time He would come "on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30) suddenly, quickly, when we do not expect Him, as many scriptures mention (Mark 13:32-37; I Thessalonians 5:2-3). Even then, those of God's people who are awake will know from where He comes.
Because Jesus did not just pop out of nowhere, the Magicians refused to recognize Him as their Messiah.
John 7:41-52 tells the story of a second group that could not recognize Jesus as their Messiah.
. . . Some said, "Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?" . . . Nicodemus . . . said to [the Pharisees], "Does our law judge a man before it hears Him and knows what He is doing?" They answered and said to him, "Are you also from Galilee? Search and look, for no prophet has arisen out of Galilee."
Had these doubters really searched, they would have found that several prophets came from Galilee:
Nahum and Hosea may have hailed from Galilee as well. The Jingoists' argument—that no prophet arose from Galilee—was completely without merit! Most important, their argument totally neglected Isaiah's prophecy about Christ's own Galilean ministry. He was to shine as a light in the darkness, in the inheritances of Naphtali and Zebulun, in "Galilee of the Gentiles" (Isaiah 9:1-2).
As so often happens, the Jingoists mixed truth with fallacy. They correctly understood two things about Christ's birth and descent:
First, they understood Isaiah 11, Jeremiah 23 and Jeremiah 33, which indicate that Christ would descend from David. He would be of Judah—the Scepter tribe (Genesis 49:10).
Second, they understood that Christ would come from Bethlehem, the home of David (I Samuel 20:6):
But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. (Micah 5:2)
Yet notice the detail of Micah's prophecy they missed. He does not say that the Messiah would reside in Bethlehem, but that He would "come forth" from it, which is exactly what He did! Joseph had come to Bethlehem at Jesus' birth because he had to pay taxes in his home town. We can deduce from Christ's genealogies that both Joseph and Mary hailed from Bethlehem. Their ancestors include David, Jesse, Obed and Boaz (Luke 3:32)—all men of Bethlehem (see Ruth 1, 2 and 4; I Samuel 16 and 17).
Sometime after Christ's birth, Joseph returned to Nazareth, in Galilee, where he and Mary reared Jesus. He began His ministry from Galilee, not Judah, as Isaiah 9 foretold. Mark 1:14-15 records a partial fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy:
Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."
Believe it or not, this group of people failed to recognize their Messiah because of His place of residence—because He lived in Galilee! Thus, we have dubbed them the Jingoists, people driven by inordinate nationalism. Behind their reason for rejecting Christ—that no prophet ever did or ever would come from Galilee—lurks an irrational, arrogant prejudice against anything not of Judea. These people were part of the power-elite of the day, part of the religious establishment centered in Jerusalem. Classic xenophobes, they wanted nothing to do with Galilee.
Situated to the north of Judea, Galilee was home to an enclave of Judeans who had migrated northward since the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. Geography and doctrine separated Galilee from Jerusalem.
• Geography: Between Judea and Galilee was Samaria, home to the Gentile "interlopers" the Jews hated. These were the people the Assyrians brought into the area when they deported the House of Israel, the northern ten tribes, around 721-718 BC.
• Doctrine: Though far from perfect, the Galileans were doctrinally purer than the Jews to the south. For example, the Galileans observed a 14th Passover, while many of those in Jerusalem, as we know, kept Passover on the 15th of Nisan (John 18:28).
Loving God's Truth
The Magicians loved superstition more than God's truth. The Jingoists loved power more than God's truth. Neither group had received "the love of the truth"; consequently, both had come to "believe the lie" (II Thessalonians 2:10-11).
But, while in Jerusalem shortly after Christ's birth, Joseph and Mary encountered a group of people who had no difficulty recognizing the Messiah—though He had not yet uttered a word. We will call this group
These people had a deep love for God's truth, and that love paid off. Luke 2 records their story.
Notice the setting. Joseph and Mary left Bethlehem for Jerusalem shortly after Christ's birth. In accordance with God's laws, they needed to bring a sacrifice before God for Mary's purification (Leviticus 12:1-8). Also, they needed to dedicate Christ, as a firstborn, to God (Exodus 13:2; 22:29; Numbers 3:13; 8:16; 18:15-16). At this time they had the pleasure of meeting a few of the Devout, two of whom Scripture lists by name.
Simeon was a man "just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him" (Luke 2:25). He praised God as he held the infant Jesus in his arms:
My eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel. (Luke 2:30-32)
He responded to Jesus in a way totally different from that of the Magicians and Jingoists.
was . . . a prophetess . . . who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant, she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. (Luke 2:36-38)
Anna took only seconds to recognize her Savior and to begin declaring His coming among the faithful!
Doing the Right Things
How were Simeon and Annaable to recognize the Messiah three decades before His first witness actually began? Luke provides the answer. He shows us that, in aggregate, the people of this group displayed the following characteristics:
1. They had God's Spirit. As a result, they were able to understand "the deep things of God. . . . No one knows the things of God except [by] the Spirit of God" (I Corinthians 2:10-11). When He promised the Spirit to His disciples, Christ called it
the Spirit of truth [which] . . . will guide you into all truth; for [it] will not speak on [its] own authority, but whatever [it] hears [it] will speak; and [it] will tell you things to come. (John 16:13)
The Spirit taught Simeon and Anna, just as it taught the apostles—just as it teaches us today.
2. They heard God's Word. Anna "did not depart from the Temple . . . night and day." She often heard the reading of God's Word, which Christ defined as truth (John 17:17). That Word "is profitable for . . . instruction in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16). The Devout received frequent instruction from God's Word.
3. They talked with others of like mind. Simeon was not alone; neither was Anna. Luke 2:38 says Anna "spoke of [Christ] to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem." An unspecified number of other people also waited for the Messiah! They fellowshipped with those who were "just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel" (verse 25).
4. They fasted often. Notice the plural: Anna "served God with fastings" (Luke 2:37). These were not the fastings of vanity (see Matthew 6:16-18), but she fasted in service to God. A result of proper fasting is knowledge (see Daniel 9:1-22; 10:1-21). Surely, Anna's frequent fastings contributed to her ability to recognize the Messiah.
5. They prayed regularly. Again, notice the plural, "prayers" (Luke 2:37). Many hours of prayer lay behind Anna's recognition of her Messiah.
Solomon writes in Proverbs 2:3-5, "If you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding, . . . then you will . . . find the knowledge of God." Solomon should know. God greatly increased his knowledge and wisdom as a result of his prayer (II Chronicles 1:10).
6. The Devout made the right connections. As a result of hearing God's Word, they were aware of the Seventy-Weeks Prophecy (Daniel 9:20-27). They realized that it was about 69 prophetic weeks since the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and the Messiah's coming was imminent. That is what Luke 2:26 tells us: God's Spirit revealed to Simeon that he would not die before seeing the Messiah.
7. The Devout saw the Day approaching and did not forsake the assembling of themselves together (Hebrews 10:25). They understood the value of Christian fellowship. The prophet wrote of them and their sort through the ages: "Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them" (Malachi 3:16).
Discussing God's Word in frequent fellowship, with humble fastings and prayers, the Devout received understanding from God. Thus, they recognized their Messiah while the superstitious Magicians and the proud Jingoists did not.
The Example of the Devout
These people walked the earth at the time of Christ's first witness to mankind. Similarly, we stand today at the threshold of His second witness. Will we stand in the shoes of the Magicians and Jingoists—the many who will not recognize Christ as their Messiah—or in the shoes of the Devout—the few who will? The choice we make will determine our future.
The Magicians and the Jingoists of old, in rejecting Christ as their Messiah, had only a short time to wait for the consequences. Less than forty years after His death, they suffered one of the most grisly tribulations of history. The Romans burned and pillaged in Galilee and Judea. They destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem with it. Josephus records that the Roman armies led 97,000 captives away from Jerusalem alone. During the three months before the Romans took the city, hunger, disease or the sword claimed 115,800 lives.
This conflagration was a type of the Great Tribulation. Had the Magicians and the Jingoists standing before the Messiah recognized Him, they and their children could have escaped, just as the Devout did. The Devout, understanding that Christ's first witness was imminent and refusing to procrastinate, did the right things. As a result, God "counted [them] worthy to escape all these things ["great distress"; verse 23] that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36).
Will we be among the relative few who recognize our Messiah? Will we escape the real Tribulation? We will if we do the right things!
We will if we love the truth. We will if we use God's Holy Spirit, studying God's Word with "fastings and prayers night and day." We will if we fellowship every Sabbath—and more often as practicable—with the people of God's true church, those who are "just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel."
If we in these last days follow the example of the Devout, God will judge us worthy "to stand before the Son of Man." And, make no mistake about it, we will recognize Him for what He is!