As all of us can tell by looking around, the Christmas season is now upon us. We look at these things and they remind us of our long lists of things we must do and get done before the “Big Day” on December 25th.
Naturally, the days leading up to the 25th are crammed with preparations of all kinds and the time flies by so fast. There are not enough hours in the day! By the time December 25th arrives, most of us are flat-out exhausted and happy when the day is finally over. I mean, all this preparation and build-up for December 25th? The entire month and more is spent focusing on this one holiday: traveling, shopping, cooking, partying, eating, wrapping gifts, caroling, cleaning, decorating, you name it. And much of this (in spite of the enormous consumption of time, energy, and money) gives us the “warm fuzzy” feelings we have in being near our loved ones.
So that’s why we continue this madness we call “Christmas” every December. At the end of this whirlwind of living in a fantasy world and being surrounded by the glitter and the romance of the season, come January we are up to our ears in debt from overspending, getting the house back to normal and trying to recover from exhaustion. But, unfortunately for some of us, it is only a painful reminder of the loss and/or the lack of relationships which can affect us deeply at this time of the year that enhance our feelings of unworthiness or isolation, and we are therefore anxious to have the Holiday season over with quickly. No wonder we are so depressed this time of year!
But what is Christmas really all about? Are any of the above descriptions biblical? We sometimes come together during the Christmas season to celebrate anything but our Savior, Jesus Christ, who should be the whole focus of the Season. So, I would like us to examine what Christmas really is relative to Jesus’ birth, His mission, what He accomplished for us on the Cross, His resurrection from the dead, and as God’s Eternal Gift to us.
Jesus: His Birthday. (Luke 2:11) Was Jesus born on December 25th? The answer is NO. But we celebrate the birth of Christ on this day as a tradition. This traditional date was mainly agreed upon by Catholics and others around the third to fourth century AD. However, while the world at large and Christendom has recognized December 25th as the traditional date of Christ’s birth, it is ironic that His real or probable birth date is not even given a glancing thought by the leaders of modern religion. I wonder why that is? It is interesting that Jesus has no relationship to Christmas as we know it. Here are some fascinating facts and principles we should ponder about Jesus’ birth and His probable birthday, because they really are spiritually significant when we study them.
The Shepherds tending their flocks. (Luke 2:8) Luke records that at the time of Christ’s birth, the shepherds were in the fields tending their flocks at night. This was a common practice from April to October. During the rest of the year, the flocks were sheltered. So why is this important? Because shepherds and their flocks would not be abiding in the open fields in December. The temperature during this time can drop to well below freezing, especially at night; and snow is common in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
The Census described by Luke. (Luke 2:1-7) For practicality purposes, the census taking took place after the harvest season (September or October), to make it easier for those paying their taxes to travel. It was also held this time of year so the economy would not be adversely impacted. In these verses in Luke, it is recorded that while in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to the Child Jesus in a stable. He was born in the stable because the town census was going on, and all the rooms were filled with other out of town guests. Also, the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles commenced in the month of Tisri (September); thus there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7)
The Birth of John the Baptist. (Luke 1:5-17) John the Baptist and Jesus were relatives from the same family. They were born six months apart: John was born first, then Jesus arrived six months later. John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah, was a priest who served in the Temple. All the priests took turns serving by 24 divisions. Zechariah was of the division of Abijah (Luke 1:5,8). These turns began in the first month of the Jewish calendar (1Chron. 27:2), March or April by our calendar. The turns rotated every week for six months, then the cycle repeated again till the end of the year. Abijah was the eighth division of the priesthood. According to this timing, Zechariah would serve the tenth week of the Jewish year, because all divisions served during primary feast weeks of the Jewish year. So all of the divisions of the priesthood would serve during Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread (the third week of the year). Likewise, all of the divisions of the priesthood would serve during the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost (the ninth week). Thus, the eighth course of the priesthood would end up serving on the tenth week of the year.
We know that Zechariah’s division served in the Temple twice a year. We do not know which two shifts of service it was. Nine months after one of the two dates John the Baptist was born; therefore, it would be either March or September. If we assume for a moment that Luke is recording Zechariah’s first shift of service for the year, we will see it tends to be accurate as we discover John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ births. So, Zechariah’s service would be Sivan 12-18 (June 13-19).
Refer to Luke 1:23-25 for the following:
After his service in the temple, Zechariah went home to his wife. The trip home (30 miles) would likely take at least 2 days. Due to the laws of separation (Leviticus 12:5; 15:19,25), two additional weeks have to be counted. We will make a second assumption, that Elizabeth conceived a child within a few days after Zechariah’s return.
Allowing for this and going forward, a normal pregnancy places the birth of John the Baptist at the time of the Passover (Nisan 15). The Jews always looked for Elijah to return on the day of Passover. To this very day there is an empty chair and a table setting for Elijah whenever Passover is celebrated. Little children also go to the door of the home and open it in anticipation of Elijah’s coming. The Old Testament prophets had said that God would send Elijah before the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 3:1; 4:5-6). According to these calculations John the Baptist was born at Passover. Remember the angel’s words to Zechariah? The angel said that John the Baptist was to come “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). Elijah came at Passover!
Refer to Luke 1:26-36 for the following:
Luke tells us that Elizabeth was six months pregnant when the angel Gabriel visited Mary. The beginning of Elizabeth’s sixth month would have been the celebration of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah, which occurs in December of our modern calendar (the first day of Tebeth). Hanukkah (Chanukkah) is known as the “Feast of the Dedication” (John 10:22) because it is connected with the dedication of the second Jewish temple and the rededication of the temple after the Maccabeanrevolt. Mary was being dedicated for a purpose of enormous magnitude: God’s presence in an earthly temple, i.e. a human body (John 2:18-21).
If Mary did conceive on Hanukkah, John the Baptist would have been born three months later at Passover. And assuming a normal pregnancy of 285 days, Jesus would have been born on the 15th day of Jewish month of Tishri (September 29 by modern reckoning). This is significant because it is the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). It is a high day, a special Sabbath, a time of great rejoicing.
Christ was begotten by the Holy Spirit on December 25 and born on September 29th the following year.
The Feast of Tabernacles and Jesus
As you have seen, the birth of our Lord can be reasonably shown to have occurred in the autumn of the year on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles. The Feast of Tabernacles is a joyful feast. Jewish believers would build a tabernacle or booth known as a “sukkah” out of green tree branches. They would eat their meals and sleep in this sukkah for eight days.
There are some very interesting connections in Scripture with Jesus and aspects of the Feast of Tabernacles.
To introduce the nature and mission of Christ, John in his Gospel employs the metaphor of the “booth” of the Feast of Tabernacles. Christ, the Word who was with God in the beginning (John 1:1), manifested Himself in this world in a most tangible way, by pitching His tent in our midst: “And the Word became flesh and tabernacledamong us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14). In seeking to describe the Messiahs first coming to His people, John chose the imagery of the Feast of Booths since the feast celebrates the dwelling of God among His people. This raises an interesting question on whether or not John intended to link the birth of Jesus with the Feast Tabernacles.
The Circumcision of our Lord took place therefore on the eighth day, the last day of the Feast (Oct. 6-7), the “Great Day of the Feast” of John 7.37 (“Tabernacles” had eight days. The Feast of Unleavened Bread had seven days, and Pentecost one. See Lev. 23).
The Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles) is called “the season of our joy” and “the feast of the nations.” With this in mind, in Luke 2:10 it is written, “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings [basar in Hebrew; otherwise known as the gospel] of great joy [Sukkot is called the ‘season of our joy’], which shall be to all people [Sukkot is called ‘the feast of the nations’].” So, we can see from this that the terminology the angel used to announce the birth of Yeshua(Jesus) were themes and messages associated with the Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles).
As we have seen, the Feast of Tabernacles is called variously “Season of Our Joy” and “Feast of the Nations.” It is also called “Feast of Lights”.
Refer to John 1:6-9 for the following:
In these verses John refers to Jesus as “the light”; and as we have also seen, verse 14 says that he “became flesh and tabernacled [literal meaning of the Greek] among us”. These are two apparent references to the Feast of Tabernacles that are associated with the coming of the Messiah.
The Word became flesh (December 25) and dwelt among us (September 29).
The Festival of Michael and All Angels is celebrated on September 29.
The year of Christ’s birth
The Gospels record Jesus’ birth as occurring during the reign of Herod the Great.
5BC or 4BC
5BC – Herod’s death is recorded by Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, Book 17, Chpt. 8) and occurred in the spring of 4 B.C. (New Testament History, F.F. Bruce, Anchor Books, p.23). Therefore, Christ’s birth had to take place at least four years before the traditional date.
Now Herod was proclaimed king by the Romans at the 184th Olympiad, which was a period of four years, at the end of which were held the games that commenced the next period. The first Olympiad was during the period of 776-772 B. C, and was reckoned as from Midsummer to Midsummer. The end of the 184th Olympiad would therefore be Midsummer 40 B.C. According to the celebrated historian Josephus, Herod actually reigned after the death of Antigonus in the Autumn of 37 B.C, and he frequently states that over three years elapsed between the Roman Proclamation and the death of Antigonus.
Josephus counted his year from Nisan to Nisan, the equivalent of our March, and he would therefore have counted the portion of the first year of Herod’s reign before Nisan as being one whole year, and as he states that Herod reigned 34 years after the death of Antigonus, his reign terminated before the Passover of Nisan 3 B.C.
Josephus states that Herod burnt the Priest Matthias and on the same night there was an eclipse of the moon. There is no record whatever to show that such an eclipse of the moon, visible from Jerusalem during the beginning of the year 3 B.C. ever took place, but a record does exist of such an eclipse occurring during the night of March 12th to 13th in the year 4 B.C.
The Feast of the Passover in the year 4 B.C, occurred on April 10th, which is barely a month after the eclipse, and we know that Herod was then alive.
Josephus records that after the death of Herod, the funeral preparations and the procession of the golden bier to Herodium, together with the period of mourning, amounted to some five weeks. He also records that as the time for the holding of the Feast of the Passover, following the funeral, approached, there was feasting and rioting among the populace, and the authorities were compelled to call out a regiment of soldiers to quell such rioters.
From this it is obvious that the death of Herod must have occurred at the beginning of the year 3 B.C. as the eclipse of 4 B.C. occurred within one month of the Passover of that year, and it has already been shown that the period of time between Herod’s death and the Passover was about ten weeks, so that the eclipse, death, burial, riots and Passover could not possibly have taken place within the period of the same year.
The Jewish Megillah Taanith states that the death occurred on Sebat 1st or January 18, 3 B.C, and with this date the records of Josephus agree.
Referring back to St. Matthew 2:19-23, it is recorded that another Angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to return to the land of Israel, and that Joseph did take Mary and the Babe to Nazareth.
St. Luke 2:41 states that Joseph and Mary went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover, and it is presumed that they attended the one held on March 31st, 3 B.C, following the death of Herod.
Magi from the east
The Scriptures tell us that there were wise men (scholars) who came from the east looking for the birth of the Messiah, saying “we have seen his star in the east”. Who were these scholars from the east? Why were they looking for a Jewish Messiah?
Refer to Matthew 2:1-6 for the following:
Babylon was known as “the land to the east.” At the time of the birth of Jesus, the largest Jewish population was actually in Babylon, not in Palestine. Nearly five hundred years earlier, the entire nation of Judah had been carried away captive into Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. Only a small colony of Jews returned to Palestine after sixty-three years of captivity. The greater number of them remained where they had established homes in the land of Babylon.
The Greek for “wise men” is magoi. Daniel was referred to by this same title (Daniel 4:9). The word is equivalent to the Jewish term rabbi. It is very likely that the wise men from the east were Jewish rabbis who had been anticipating the coming of the Messiah because of Daniels seventy weeks prophecy [Daniel 9:24]. They had spotted a new star in the sky and took it to be a sign of the coming of the Messiah.
There is one time of the year when Jews would typically look at the stars. That time was during the Festival of Tabernacles. As we already said, Jewish believers would build a tabernacle or booth known as a “sukkah” out of green tree branches. They would eat their meals and sleep in this sukkah for eight days. It was customary to leave a hole in the roof of the sukkah so that one could look at the stars. Jewish “wise men” celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles would have noticed the appearance of a new star.
The year of Jesus’ birth
Jesus was born while Herod the Great was still living (Matthew 2:1). Wise men appeared in Jerusalem asking about “one who has been born king of the Jews?” Of course, this upset Herod, who had been given that title by the Roman Senate. Herod talked to the wise men secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared (Matthew 2:7). The wise men then journeyed to Bethlehem and found Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in a house (Matthew 2:11) and they bowed down and worshiped Jesus.
When the wise men did not return to give Herod a report, “Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the wise men. He was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16).
This tells us that Jesus may have been born two years before the appearance of the wise men and the death of Herod. Herod died the spring of 4 B.C. Let’s assume that the star appeared at Jesus’ birth. Let’s also assume that Herod was already close to death when the wise men appeared. It was the custom in ancient Israel to count the years of one’s age from the date of conception. Therefore, Herod actually killed the children one year old and under according to the way that age is calculated today. This would mean that Jesus had to have been born in 6 B.C. (if Jesus was one year old) or 5 B.C. (if Jesus was under one year and Herod was just being extra careful).
This date for Jesus’ birth fits with other Biblical data such as Jesus being “about thirty years old” when He began his ministry (Luke 3:23). From evidence given to us in John 2:20 about the construction of the temple, we know Jesus’ ministry began in A.D. 26. Counting forward from 6 B.C. to A.D. 26 (one year has to be subtracted because there is no year zero) would make Jesus 31 years old when he began his ministry — that is, about thirty years old. Counting forward from 5 B.C. to A.D. 26 would make Jesus 30 years old when he began his ministry. The birth years of 5 or 6 B.C. also fit with the best date for the crucifixion, that is A.D. 30. The 5 B.C. date is reasonable if one assumes that the wise men would want to come at once and the time for a journey from Babylon to Jerusalem takes only four months.
A best guess for the birth of Jesus from the Scriptures and history is September 29, 5 B.C.
The foregoing is not meant as information set in stone. Different people have come up with different explanations and dates on the birth of Christ. But I do find the above information very interesting as a historical guide as to the significant events that were occurring or coinciding with Jesus’ birth. Knowing and picturing these events helps us to have a better and more accurate understanding of Who our Savior really is vs. what we have made Him out to be in our human traditions.
Jesus: His Mission or Ministry. His mission was several-fold: 1) to fulfill Old Testament prophecy about the coming Messiah; 2) to show us the Father; 3) to heal the brokenhearted and hopeless; 4) to be our Personal Savior.
(1) Old Testament prophecy fulfillment. The whole Bible is written about Jesus (as a testament or testimony of Jesus) (Psalm 119:160; Matt. 11:3) and for Jesus (to glorify Him). (John 17:1) It is written to edify (teach) us so that we may really know Him. (John 17:3) In fact, the first chapter of the Gospel of John declares that Jesus IS THE WORD, that He came down from Heaven and that He was God in Flesh. (John 1:1-3, 14) Hundreds of Old Testament Messianic prophecies about Christ have already come true. There are still more to be fulfilled, such as Christ’s Second Coming. But it stands to reason that if hundreds of Old Testament prophecies have already been fulfilled, that the rest certainly will be, too. What are the odds of hundreds of prophecies being 100% fulfilled about one Person over a span of thousands of years by many different writers? It is impossible, unless we are talking about a work that was totally divine in inspiration; namely, the Holy Bible. For those who arrogantly claim that the Bible is a bunch of myths and fairy tales, they are willingly ignorant of what the Bible contains and even more ignorant of the Savior, to their own misfortune.
(2) Jesus showed us the Father. (John 14:8-21) He came to show us the heart and mind of God through the Scriptures, yet He became just like us by humbling Himself and being in subjection to God the Father while on earth. (Luke 2:51; John 5:19) In order to truly be able to bridge the gap between man and God, He had to temporarily give up His glorious throne and come down to live like us for a span of time. (John 6:62) That is why He is called Son of God and Son of Man. As a man, He took on humility and became subject to God the Father. As the Son of God, He was able to be a perfect Savior and atone for all the sins of mankind and to do the miraculous things He did (healings, walk on water, prophesy). The Jews expected their Messiah to come as a King who would set up a Kingdom at that time and free them from Roman oppression; instead, He came in a very meek and humble manner and was the opposite of what they expected. Therefore, they rejected Him as their Messiah. (Matt. 27:11, 29) It is when He comes again in power and sovereignty to set up His Kingdom and rule at the start of the Millennium is when He will be recognized as the True Messiah and King over all the earth. Alleluia and Praise God in the Highest!
(3) He came to heal the brokenhearted, the hopeless, and many ills. (Luke 4:18) The Lord came from Heaven down to us to bring grace, healing, hope, and compassion to those who were downtrodden. (Matt. 9:20) He chose to eat with “sinners” (whom the Pharisees constantly mocked and criticized). (Matt. 9:10, 11) Jesus was their physician (Matt. 9:12) whose mission and message was to restore physical and spiritual health to those who were broken in mind, body, and spirit. Boy, to walk even a day with the Lord while He ministered to those He encountered on the earth! Imagine what that must have been like! And to be like Mary, who sat at His feet and being captivated by what He had to say. Contrast that with the harsh, stilted and ineffective traditional laws of the land imposed by the Pharisees! (Matt. 15:6) I get very powerful images in my mind and heart thinking about Jesus and the way He ministers.
(4) He came to be our Personal Savior. (John 6:51) Jesus came to die on a Cross. What a horrible thought! But…it was the biggest part of His mission! He came down to show us His Salvation; and because of His love, provide the Gift of Salvation to all those who would accept it by faith. And He was the only One who could possibly accomplish proper atonement for man, who is hopelessly and helplessly lost without God. No one else could do it and there was no other way to do it, so He willingly came and chose to atone for us by dying on our behalf as our Perfect Substitute. He was not simply a representative or an example, as some religions falsely teach! He had to be, and He was indeed, much more powerful than that!
Jesus: What He accomplished for us on the Cross.
The Nature of Jesus Christ. (John 3:13; John 6:38, 41; John 6:62; John 1:1-14; Heb. 1:8) If you look at these verses, you will see that Jesus had a dual nature: one that was fully man (as He died, He humbled Himself, He became like us, etc.), as well as one who came down from heaven “from where He was before”. Also, God the Father calling the Son GOD in Hebrews. That indicates that Jesus was not a mere created being, like we are. He had to be a whole lot more in order for His sacrifice to be efficacious for all of mankind’s sins. If He was a mere mortal like us, His sacrifice would have obviously been invalid, and we could never be redeemed. So, Jesus had to be fully God and fully man in order to accomplish this. Also, there is no way in the world that any created, fallen creature could be born sinless. Ridiculous!
The Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:22) In order for mankind to be saved out of his fallen, sinful condition, it would have to take someone that was supernaturally above the fallen, sinful nature to accomplish this. The only One ever to come into this world and walk this planet Who could fit this description was Jesus. He had to die as a blood sacrifice FOR US, so that we could be redeemed. You may ask, “Why did it have to take a blood sacrifice? Wasn’t that rather extreme, and couldn’t it have been done another way?” The answer is a resounding “NO”, for a few reasons:
(1) Unlike ours, His blood was absolutely pure and sinless (His father is God, so the “God” gene made His blood pure and separated from Mary’s, that was sinful), which is significant in terms of the meaning of Atonement. All through the Old Testament, starting from before the Mosaic Law, all sacrifices had very strict purity standards and regulations attached to them, which all pointed to Christ (Num. 6:14). But still, the blood of bulls and goats could not save, it was only a temporary covering under the Law. (Heb. 10:4) It took Christ Himself, Who is the Lamb of God, to die once for all for sins. (John 1:29; Heb. 10:10) Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins. (Heb. 9:22)
(2) The whole process of the crucifixion was that He gave HIMSELF for us, and His blood was poured out both in love and also as a requirement for sin (Gal. 1:4; Titus 2:14). This was done to appease God the Father’s WRATH toward us because we by nature are separated from a Holy, pure and sinless God. That act which was done on the Cross for us was so we could become reconciled back into a right relationship with God. No other way would or could ever accomplish this by ordinary man: no amount of works, penitence, baptisms, church-going, sacraments, ordinances, being “good” or anything else could possibly appease God’s Wrath than that of Jesus offering Himself as a Gift of Grace. (Rom. 6:23; Eph. 2:8) Our own righteousness is as filthy rags in God’s sight (Is. 64:6). Therefore, we have to depend totally on Jesus for everything by faith, but especially eternal life!
(3) He condemned sin in the flesh. (Rom. 8:3) What does that mean? It means that, even though He was fully God, He was fully man and He came down from Heaven in the likeness of sinful flesh (although because of His divine, God-nature, He didn’t have sinful flesh but the likeness of it), and as such, He had the power to condemn sin in the flesh through His finished work on the Cross. As a Son of Man, He was physically able to die so atonement could happen for us.
(4) In giving Himself to us and for us as a redemptive Gift, He became our substitute. Why a substitute and not simply a representative? Well, for the very good reason is that WE DESERVE EVERY BIT TO BE IN HIS PLACE ON THE CROSS because of how God looks on sin! However, because it was done for us as we could not possibly earn our own way to heaven or redeem ourselves, we now have opportunity by personal acceptance of this wonderful Gift of Grace, to have all our sins totally erased. What an awesome concept! So, how do we accept this Gift into our lives and hearts? By 1) recognizing that we are a sinner who is totally separated from God’s Holy Throne and Presence; 2) recognizing Who our Redeemer is and that we need forgiveness for our sins and that He is the only way to be saved; 3) recognizing the need to humble ourselves before a Holy and wonderful God whom we have offended so much because of our sin; 4) repentance (turning from) sin. When we do that, we are spiritually washed from our filth and become new creatures in Christ. (2Cor. 5:17) By accepting Jesus into our lives this way, we are exchanging our unrighteousness for His righteousness. So now, instead of God viewing you as a filthy object of His WRATH, because you are covered with Christ, God sees Him when He sees you and you no longer come under condemnation to judgment and to Hell (Eph. 2:3). 5) Because of your new standing with the Lord, He has adopted you into His family forever as a new son or daughter, He now loves and wants to nurture you through a new relationship. He now gives you eternal life, because all your sins – past, present and future, have been washed away, and you are clean in His sight and fit for His heaven. (Mark 3:28) 6) Lastly, as a new creature in Christ who has gone through the New Birth and has been washed, the Holy Spirit can now come and indwell the new believer as a guide, comforter, convict of sin, counselor, minister and teacher in every aspect of our lives. He is with us to teach us how to read and study our Bible correctly and how to interpret its meaning. He also with us when we pray, and enables us to pray effectively with conviction. He encourages our hearts and strengthens our faith. The Holy Spirit is not some impersonal force, but the third Person of the Trinity who is also God who grieves, teaches, talks, has wisdom, is joyous, etc. (Eph. 4:30) Each one of the Three Person Godhead are all considered God by their Nature even though their Offices or Functions are different. (Acts 5:1-10) So these three Persons are considered one God because of the same nature they share.
The Virgin Birth. (Luke 1:27-35) So, what does the Virgin Birth of Christ have to do with His atonement? I’ll tell you: a whole lot! If Jesus had not been supernaturally born this way, He could not qualify to be the Son of God and our Redeemer in the first place! Not only that, but the whole Bible and all its Messianic prophecies would be false! (Luke 2:29-32) Thank God we know that isn’t true.
Three Days and Nights in the Tomb. When Jesus hung on that Cross, He was between two thieves. One of them derided Him and didn’t believe and so went to the place of the damned, but the other one did believe. (Luke 23:39-43). Jesus told him that that very day, he would be with Him in Paradise. That is to say, His body would lay in the tomb for those three days (hell/hades); but He Himself would be in Paradise with God the Father awaiting the resurrection of His body on the third day. (Acts 2:31; Eccl. 12:7) He also assured the repentant thief of where he was going, and that it would be immediate. Jesus, by His crucifixion and resurrection, set the tone for all others: He was the Firstfruits from the dead and the last Adam by which every one of us who identify with Him have this assurance of eternal life. (1Cor. 15:45)
Make no mistake in believing that when Jesus died, He went to be with the damned or even worse, that He was annihilated as some religions falsely teach! If that was so, then the resurrected “Jesus” could only be a copy of Himself and not the real Person. Preposterous! I’d rather have the original….
Jesus: His resurrection from the dead. (Matt. 28:6) All other founders of religions have lived and died. They are still dead and will stay that way. But with Jesus it is totally different. He is the only “founder” of Christianity who has died, as God in flesh (John 1:14), and was resurrected on the third day as death could not hold Him. (Acts 2:31) He lives forever so that we may live, too! (1Cor. 15:14, 17) He promised us that He was going away to prepare a place for us, that where He is, we may be also. (John 14:2, 3) In order for that to be true, He had to die (to purchase/redeem us from our sins as our Savior) and also be resurrected. Without the resurrection, the process of redemption would not be complete. The whole chapter of 1Corinthians 15 talks about the resurrection and the believer’s lively hope in Eternal Life. Because Jesus was resurrected, this solidifies the believer’s eternity immediately upon taking Jesus into our life at the New Birth.
The future resurrection of believers and unbelievers. There will come an appointed time when all believers from all time will be resurrected. However, they will be resurrected in different groups at different points in history. For example, the Church Age believers (those who have accepted Christ from the time of Christ until now) will be resurrected at the coming Rapture and all believers will be removed to heaven. (1Cor. 15:52) This will be to keep them from the wrath that will be coming on the earth during the time of the Tribulation, to cleanse the earth of sin. (1Th. 1:10) The Old Testament Saints who foresaw and believed in the coming Messiah will come back to life after the Tribulation at the start of the Millennial Reign of Christ and they will reign together with those who have returned from heaven at Armageddon. (Rev. 20:4; Rev. 19:14) The rest of the dead (those saved during the Tribulation and Millennium and those unsaved from all time) will be resurrected and judged after the Millennium as either “sheep” or “goats”. (Rev. 20:5; Dan. 12:2; Matt. 25:32-34) The sheep will be granted the right to be with Christ and His saints; and the goats will face judgment at the Great White Throne and eternal banishment from God’s presence and His goodness forever. (Rev. 20:11-15) They will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, and God’s justice for all unrighteousness will be finally vindicated.
All resurrected bodies will be raised incorruptible, whether sheep or goats, to receive either their rewards or their judgments, which will be for eternity. (Luke 6:23, 35; 2Cor. 5:10) The believers’ sins have already been judged at the Cross by Christ and they no longer come under condemnation. (John 19:30; Rom. 8:1) However, all the unbelievers who chose to not receive Christ, will be forced to pay the penalty for their sins themselves, which will have horrendous eternal consequences.
So you see, this whole picture of why Jesus atoned for us is summarized as follows: 1) to provide the way for man’s sin to be dealt with; 2) to be man’s covering through salvation; 3) to bring God’s love so people would not have to go to hell, eternally separated from Him; 4) to bring God’s Grace to mankind. Yet, God does not force anyone to accept His offer of Grace; we need to respond to that offer by faith. (Eph. 2:8)
Jesus: God’s Eternal Gift to us. (John 3:16) Someone has said, “If Christ is born a thousand times in Bethlehem, but not born in your heart, it is a totally insignificant event”. How true! Jesus has to be a living reality that carries us wherever we go.
I cannot think of a better Christmas Gift to me for all time than the Person of Jesus Christ! He means everything, and His importance to me is above all else. Thanks be to God for giving Him to me in His Love and Grace. Let us cherish our wonderful Savior forever by looking to Him for all things, walking with Him and glorifying Him with our lives through a personal relationship.
No matter what the personal circumstances in your life (which sometimes cannot be controlled), you can have absolute JOY this season because of the Eternal Gift of Jesus! All other gifts pale in comparison.
I would like to briefly expand on the statements I made at the beginning of this article relative to the celebration of Christmas. It is not wrong to have a nice family and friends get-together on Christmas if you want to. Neither is it wrong if you choose to not participate. (Rom. 14:5) It is only a problem if the traditional Christmas celebration is taken to extremes and we lose sight of the whole meaning of it. In other words, let’s keep the “Christ” in Christmas, even if it is only a traditional day set aside for His birthday while His true birthday is in the fall of the year anyway. And, let’s also remember to put Christ FIRST in Christmas, instead of ourselves or even our families and friends! That is the most important element.
May you be blessed this Christmas season, and all seasons, with the love of Jesus burning brightly in your heart. May He reign mightily in your life as you make Him yours forever. What a precious and divine Gift above all other gifts! Merry Christmas!