For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:16-19, NRSV)
For I say that Christ became a servant of the circumcised on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises to the fathers, and so that Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and I will sing praise to your name. Again it says, Rejoice, you Gentiles, with his people! And again, Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples praise him! (Romans 15:8-11, CSB)
As we step into the New Testament, we see that the promises of the covenants are still burning in people’s hearts and minds (see, e.g., Lk. 1-2, 24).
When would God do what he had solemnly sworn to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?
When would he fulfill his promises concerning Israel’s restoration and the salvation of the nations?
When would he raise the dead to life?
When would he act on behalf of and in faithfulness to his promise to King David?
When would he establish the new and everlasting covenant of peace that he had promised?
Would God really do what he had said he would do?
Were the promises truly reliable?
In first-century Israel, many years after the promises of the covenants had been made, a Jew named Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew), from a small town called Nazareth, appeared on the scene doing amazing miracles, freeing people from demonic oppression, teaching with authority, and making stunning claims about his identity, mission, and purpose. While some in Israel loved Jesus and followed him as disciples, others hated him and eventually had him put to death.
Jesus’ death, however, was not the end of the story. According to his disciples, two days after his crucifixion, on the “third day” (Mt. 17:23), God raised Jesus from the dead, thereby vindicating his innocence, affirming the truth of his teaching and claims, and confirming the dependability of the promises of the covenants.
According to the New Testament, Jesus is the very Savior of the world, the promised king, or “Messiah” (see “The ‘What’ of the Christ/the Cross” below), through whose first coming the new covenant has been established and the reliability of God’s covenant promises dramatically confirmed. Jesus’ name means “the Lord saves” (Mt. 1:21, NIV footnote), and it is he alone in whom salvation and deliverance from the curse (see “Curse”) is found (Ac. 4:12).
On the human level Jesus was (and still is) a descendant of Adam (Lk. 3:38), a “son of Abraham” (Mt. 1:1), and a “son of David” (Mt. 1:1). However, Jesus was not merely a human being.
Although it is too wonderful for finite human minds to comprehend, the testimony of the Scriptures is that Jesus the Messiah is not only fully man, but fully God as well. Jesus claimed as much for himself (see, e.g., Jn. 8:58), and his resurrection vindicates his claim and validates its truth.
Because the promised Messiah is fully God, he has the power, authority, and ability to save us, and he is worthy of worship. Because he is fully human, he is able to save us in all respects—body, mind, soul, will, emotions, etc.—and can serve as a merciful and faithful high priest, knowing as he does what it means to suffer and able to help us in our times of weakness and temptation (see Heb. 2:14-18).
For our sake he left his glory behind, took on the nature or form of a servant, and suffered what the people of his day considered an utterly humiliating and shameful death (see Php. 2:6-11). As a result, God the Father “highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Php. 2:9, ESV). At present Jesus is at the Father’s right hand in the highest heaven (see “The ‘Where’ of Creation”), representing his people, presenting appeals to the Father on their behalf (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7), and, through the Holy Spirit whom he has poured out on them, cleansing and preparing them for the day of his glorious return, when all the promises of the covenants will be fulfilled (see, e.g., Rm. 8:27; Eph. 1:20-23, 5:25-27; Php. 1:9-11).
The title “Messiah” or “Christ” means “Anointed One.” 1
In ancient Israel, priests, prophets, and kings were consecrated and appointed to God’s service through a ceremony in which olive oil was poured on the head of the person being commissioned (see, e.g., Lev. 8:12; 1 Sam. 10:1, 16:13; 1 Ki. 19:16). This pouring was called “anointing,” and the person who received it was called the Lord’s “anointed” (see, e.g., 1 Sam. 24:6). The Lord’s anointed servants were endued with the power of God’s Spirit for the purpose of carrying out their divinely appointed tasks and assignments (see, e.g., 1 Sam. 16:13).
After centuries of careful reflection on the Scriptures and the promises of the covenants, many Jews in Jesus’ day had come to expect the arrival of an ultimate “anointed one”—the greatest of all prophets and kings and Spirit-empowered servants of God (see, e.g., Mt. 12:23, Jn. 1:21, 1:35-51, 6:14, 7:40; cf. Dt. 18:15-19; 2 Sam. 7)—through whom the promises would be carried out and seen to their fulfillment.
The New Testament boldly declares that Jesus of Nazareth is, in fact, the great Anointed Servant and Davidic King whom God had promised to send in order to save Israel and the nations.
In the New Testament we read that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power,” and that “he went about doing good and healing all who were under the tyranny of the devil, because God was with him” (Ac. 10:38, ESV). Jesus healed paralytics, epileptics, and people suffering from pain and various illnesses (Mt. 4:23-24). He drove demons out of people (see, e.g., Mt. 9:32-33). A shrunken and paralyzed hand bowed before Jesus’ power and authority (Mt. 12:9-13), as did skin diseases (Mt. 8:1-3). He healed the blind (see, e.g., Mt. 9:27-30; Jn. 9), raised people from the dead (see, e.g., Mt. 9:24; Lk. 7:11-15; Jn. 11), and fed thousands of people through the miraculous multiplication of food (see, e.g., Mt. 14:13-21). He demonstrated his authority over creation by calming storms with an authoritative command (Mt. 8:23-27), by walking on water (Mt. 14:22-33), and by turning water into wine (Jn. 2:1-12).
As amazing as such displays of power were, however, they were not the only thing that astonished people and grabbed their attention.
The authority with which he taught amazed the crowds and set him apart from other teachers of his day (Mt. 7:28-29). His pronouncements of forgiveness—a divine prerogative (“Who can forgive sins but God alone?” [Mk. 2:7, CSB])—and his claim to be God, the great “I AM” of Exodus 3:14, shocked people and brought accusations of blasphemy (see, e.g., Mt. 9:1-6; Mk. 2:1-12, 14:62-64; Lk. 7:48; Jn. 8:48-59, 10:31-39).
Eventually Jesus’ opponents had had enough, and they arranged to have him crucified.
However, Jesus’ death merely set the stage for the most significant wonder of all: Bodily resurrection on the “third day” (Mt. 17:23), that is, two days after his crucifixion. Had Jesus in fact been a blasphemer? Had he in fact been a deceiver of the people, as some had claimed (Jn. 7:12, 47)? No.
God vindicated Jesus and overturned the unjust verdict against him by raising him to life. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to many people in his resurrected body, eating in their presence and having them touch him in order to assure them that it really was him (see Mt. 28; Mk. 16; Lk. 24; Jn. 20-21; Ac. 13:30; 1 Cor. 15:3-8).
In this way the matter was now sealed once and for all in the minds of his followers: Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the promised Anointed One. He is the Messiah.
Jesus revealed to his disciples that God’s covenantal plan of salvation was to be carried out through two comings of the Messiah (with a gap of time in between them), instead of a singular Messianic advent, as was expected by most Jews of Jesus’ day. 2 Jesus the Messiah made his first appearance in the first century. This is often referred to as the “First Coming.”
Before ascending to the height of the heavens, Jesus promised that at a future time he would return to the earth in great power and glory to set up his glorious kingdom, restore Israel, raise the dead, and fulfill all the other promises of the covenants as well (see, e.g., Mt. 16:27, 19:28-30, 25:31-46; Ac. 1:11).
Each of the two comings has a distinctive focus, purpose, and priority within God’s saving plan. In the words of Hebrews 9:28, the Messiah came the first time in order to “bear the sins of many,” and he “will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (CSB). The event through which the Messiah “bore the sins of many”—the crucifixion—took place sometime between 26 and 36 A.D., 3 during the spring festival of Passover (Mk. 14:1).
By dividing the Messianic mission into two historical phases—the first visit for atonement and mercy, the second for judgment—God was revealing to the world the true depth of his mercy, patience, and love for sinners (see, e.g., 2 Pt. 3:9).
In the first century the Messiah came as God’s own specially-chosen “Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7, NET), and not yet as his instrument of wrath, judgment, and punishment (see, e.g., Is. 63; Ac. 17:31; Rev. 19). The chronological gap between the spring feasts, in which the Passover lamb was sacrificed, and the fall feasts, when the trumpets are blown and the final harvest of the year is gathered (Lev. 23:23-44; cf. Zech. 14), turned out to be a prophetic picture of how the Messianic mission would be administrated in two phases separated by a gap in time.
In the interim, Jesus’ disciples are to go throughout the earth with an offer of amnesty and mercy—repentance and the forgiveness of sins (Lk. 24:47)—before the day when the Messiah comes back the second time, this time in judgment.
Jesus was born in a small town called Bethlehem, just south of the city of Jerusalem (Mt. 2:1; Lk. 2:15). The prophet Micah had prophesied that the promised king of Israel would be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2; cf. Mt.2:6). During his ministry Jesus traveled to many places within the land of Israel, and visited, too, a number of places in the regions surrounding Israel (see, e.g., Mt. 15:21-28). Jesus did much of his teaching in synagogues (see, e.g., Mt. 9:35; Lk. 4:16-27), although he taught in a variety of other places as well, such as on mountainsides and hillsides (see, e.g., Mt. 5:1, 24:3), on the lakeshore (see, e.g., Mk. 4:1), in homes (see, e.g., Lk. 10:38), and in the temple courts (see, e.g., Mt. 21:23).
As for the location of Jesus’ crucifixion, we are told that he was crucified on a hill outside Jerusalem 4 called Golgotha (Aramaic), “which means Place of the Skull” (Mt. 27:33, CSB; cf. Mk. 15:22, Jn. 19:17). According to Hebrews, Jesus suffered “outside the city gate,” or “outside the camp,” in order to “make the people holy through his own blood” (Heb. 13:12-13, NIV). According to the Old Testament, “outside the camp” or “outside the town/city” (Lev. 14:40) is the place to which those defiled by death are banished (Lev. 13:36; Num. 5:1-3), the place in which blasphemers and other covenant violators are put to death (see, e.g., Lev. 24:14, 23; Num. 15:35), and the place where the body of the animal killed in the purification offering (which had “absorbed” the uncleanness of the nation into itself) was burned on the Day of Atonement (or in other serious cases of ritual defilement; see Lev. 4, 16:27).
At Golgotha Jesus was put to death like a blasphemer, a criminal, or a person whose sinful conduct or contact with death had made him unclean in the eyes of God. However, it was not his own defiled or unclean condition for which Jesus died, but that of Israel and the rest of humanity.
We were the ones whose sin had brought defilement to the Creator’s world and who therefore deserved to be punished, but at the cross Jesus was mercifully punished in our place and on our behalf (see Is. 53). He died so that we could be set free.
Jesus’ death on the cross was a perfect, God-approved, and God-appointed sacrifice on the basis of which people from both Israel and the nations may be reconciled with God, forgiven of their sins, and spared God’s wrath in the coming Day of judgment.
Although some measure of forgiveness had been attainable through Israel’s sacrificial system (see, e.g., Lev. 4), the sacrifices offered in that system—bulls, sheep, goats, pigeons, and doves—were of inherently less worth and value than human beings within the created order (see, e.g., Gen. 1, 9:1-7), and, in addition to this, did not offer themselves on the sacrificial altar voluntarily. Consequently, the worth of these sacrifices was not at a level sufficient for God to accept them as the basis for opening the door of eternal life to Israel and the rest of humanity.
Now, however, true reconciliation between God and the descendants of Adam and Eve is possible because of the Messiah’s death. His sacrifice is of infinite worth in the eyes of God, and therefore on the basis of it he has flung open the doors of mercy to both Jew and Gentile. The blood of animal sacrifices could not wash away our sins (Heb. 10:4); Jesus’ blood can.
The sacrificial system served as a foreshadow of Jesus’ death on the cross. Although Jesus could have called down thousands upon thousands of angels to put an immediate end to those who attacked him and treated him so arrogantly, for the sake of our salvation he kept silent and, of his “own accord” (Jn. 10:18, NIV), allowed himself to be crucified.
We were the ones who deserved to be punished, but at the cross the punishment for our sin was placed on Jesus instead (Is. 53:5).
The death Jesus suffered reveals the worth that God places on his creation, and especially on those made in his image. The blood that he spilled on the cross is the blood of the “new covenant” (Lk. 22:20), of which Jesus is the “mediator” (Heb. 9:15) who sees to the fulfillment of the covenant’s terms by faithfully approaching God on his people’s behalf and faithfully approaching his people on God’s behalf 5 (Heb. 7:22; cf. Moses’ role in Ex. 19-40). The Messiah suffered to make a way for human beings to be included in the promised salvation.
Like other Jews of their time, Jesus and his followers eagerly looked forward to the Day when God would do everything he had promised in the covenants: Regather and restore the Jewish people to the land of Israel; turn the Gentiles from idolatry to the worship of the one true God; set up the Messianic kingdom with its headquarters in Jerusalem, with the ultimate Anointed One sitting on David’s throne; resurrect the dead; reward the righteous and punish the wicked; cleanse the world of impurity and defilement; dethrone and punish rebellious spiritual powers; renew and restore the heavens and the earth, etc.. These things were part of the common expectation of many if not most Jews of Jesus’s day; this was the “hope of Israel” (Ac. 28:20).
When Jesus came the first time, he did not change, overturn, or redefine this hope. God had confirmed the reliability of his promises with solemn vows, and he would never go back on them.
Jesus did, however, make known some aspects of God’s plan of salvation that had not yet been revealed or fully clarified, pertaining primarily to the “when” and the “how” of that plan. These things were surprising and unexpected, and in some ways even (initially) offensive, to his Jewish disciples. Here we will briefly mention three of these surprising elements, all of which conform to the two-phase plan discussed above:
Through the various events connected with the Messiah’s first coming, God has made it even more clear how absolutely committed he is to his covenant promises (Rm. 15:8). In dramatic fashion, what the prophets foretold has been “more fully confirmed” (2 Pt. 1:19, ESV). Jesus’ resurrection is a picture of the glorious inheritance that awaits his loyal followers at his return (see Php. 3:21; Jm. 1:12).