Saturday, December 10, 2016

THE ROOT AND THE STAR

The way in which Jesus identified himself more than any other in the New Testament was by calling himself “The Son of Man.” We probably would not think that this would necessarily be so. The struggle that Jesus had with the people of his day was not to convince them that he was a man, just as were they, but that he was also God. Nevertheless, although he spoke many times and in many ways of his special relationship to the Father, never did he refer to himself directly as “The Son of God.”

It is not that he was trying to keep this aspect of his life a secret. He did many things to demonstrate that he truly was from heaven. He performed healings and fed people, and did deeds that were direct fulfillments of Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. Other people recognized this and even called him “The Son of God.” When they did, Jesus never denied that he indeed was the Son of God. Rather, he affirmed to them that what they said was true. 

Jesus Presented as the Son of God

And many others did ascribe divinity to the man Jesus. His disciples did, the people who saw the miracles that he did recognized him as divine, even on occasion demons called him the Son of God. Even the very first and last testimony about Jesus while on he was on the earth was the fact that he was the Son of God. When the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to have a baby, he told her that the child would be called the Son of God.

Gabriel said to Mary, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:31-33 NAS).

 That is how Jesus came into the world. Then, when he was put to death near the end of his earthly presence, and when the centurion who had been in charge of the crucifixion of Jesus realized what he had done in killing him, he said, “Surely this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54). 

Jesus Presented as the Son of Man

However, Jesus preferred to call himself the Son of Man.
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As the Son of Man, Jesus affirms his kinship with us as men and women. This kinship is even affirmed in the genealogical record. The very first verse in the book of Matthew reads: “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”

There were, of course, several generations between Abraham and David, as well as between David and Jesus. Most of if not all of these intervening generations are also included in the complete genealogy of the first chapter of Matthew. However, the broader point of the whole record was to show Jesus as the Son of Man. He was born into a family with its own ancestry.

One of the main reasons was that Jesus so often referred to himself as the Son of Man is that he wanted us to know that he identified with us. He wants us to be assured that he knows what we go through as men and as women. He is not some distant God who cannot relate to the difficulties and even the temptations that we face.

As the writer of Hebrews puts it, “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 NAS). 

The Root of David

And now in the book of Revelation, we come to some of the very last verses in the Bible. John has seen an incredible number of things pertaining to the final days of this present earth and the ushering in of the new heavens and the new earth. Jesus says to John, “I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (Revelation 22:18b NAS).

Even in this final vision of John’s, Jesus is identifying himself first with mankind. “I am the root and the descendant of David.” As we saw in the genealogy as listed in the book of Matthew, Jesus was from the family line of the earthly king David. This is a phrase that is quite common throughout the Scripture. It shows both the kinship of Jesus with mankind and also his heritage of earthly royalty. He was, in fact, the descendant of Israel’s greatest king.

It is not only in the final verses of Revelation that Jesus is identified in this way, but also in the first part. In that earlier vision of John's, he saw "an elder" who referred to Jesus as “the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah and the Root of David” (Revelation 5:5).

The prophet Isaiah was actually the first to speak in these terms. He wrote in a prophecy concerning the coming of Jesus, “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him” (Isaiah 11:1-2a NAS). The man Jesse to whom Isaiah referred, was the father of King David, showing family lineage.
 
Jeremiah, another of the Old Testament prophets, also wrote in these terms. He wrote, “ ‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; And He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land’” (Jeremiah 23:5 NAS). 

Multiple Appearances

Why was this reference to a branch coming from the root of David important? Again, it was important for a couple of reasons. In addition to showing the connection with men and women and also to show his royal lineage, another reason is the fact that the appearance of Jesus on earth is more than simply a one-time event. The first appearance was when he came as a baby human child, born as an infant in the stable of Bethlehem. He then lived on earth with us for something like thirty-three years.  The second appearance of Jesus is yet in the future when he will come to establish a kingdom here on earth. This, the Bible teaches us, will be a literal one-thousand year reign. The third appearance will be his eternal presence as the king in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Since there are multiple appearances of Jesus, the fact that in each case he is identified as coming from the line of David is something that connects all of these arrivals together. Jesus identifies himself in this way so that we will know that this is the same Jesus. He is the promised Messiah, the future King of the earthly reign, and the Eternal King of the New Heavens and the New Earth. These are multiple appearances of the same Jesus, and this is the king that John met in our Bible passage in the last chapter of Revelation when Jesus told John that he was to tell these things to the churches. 

Jesus as Lord of the Earth

In the prophetic messages by the Old Testament prophets concerning Christ, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish whether the prophets are referring to the one-thousand year reign of Christ on this present earth, or if they are speaking of Christ’s eternal reign in the New Heavens and the New Earth. These are two separate appearances.

However, it may not be critical that we make this clear distinction in this regard, and perhaps the references apply to both appearances. The one-thousand year earthly reign of Christ that is to come will be before the ushering in of the eternal New Earth, but it could be viewed almost as a precursor to the eternal state in the Kingdom of God. The two have much in common and in many ways the thousand year reign simply blends into and becomes the eternal reign of Christ.

This is Jesus as the root and descendant of David. This is Jesus as the Son of Man. He is intimately and fully connected with us as men and women. In very many ways, he is one of us. By referring to himself as the descendant of David, Jesus intended to show his relationship to the redeemed men and the women of his creation.

But in the same introduction to John, besides referring to himself as being from the root of David, Jesus also said, “I am the bright morning star.” What then does he mean by this? 

The Bright and Morning Star

There far fewer Scriptural passages that can give us a sense of what Jesus means by calling himself the Bright and Morning Star, but we do have a few. Just as his reference to being a descendant of David connects him with you and me (his earthly creation), when he calls himself “the bright and morning star,” he is showing his connection to the heavenly host of angels and other beings. He is, after all, Lord of all creation.

To begin to explore this, I need to say that we must be careful here so that we do not misinterpret what Scripture is saying, because there is today much mythology connected with the stars. Actually, it has always been this way. There have always been those people who follow religiously the constellations of the zodiac, and those who even worship the stars.

I am not speaking in these terms at all, and neither is the Scripture. I only want to point out some of the imagery in the Bible about stars. The imagery begins with what Jesus called himself – The Bright and Morning Star. 

The Stars Who Sing

Stars are also sometimes used in in Scripture to represent the host of heavenly angels. For instance, in the book of Job, when God is speaking to the man Job, God puts this series of questions to him: 

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who set its measurements? Since you know.
Or who stretched the line on it?
On what were its bases sunk?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7 NAS) 

It is this last phrase that it interesting to us as we think about the subject of the stars. In this phrase, God refers to the time when he began to create the earth. The words that he uses in this stanza concerning the creation are highly metaphoric and symbolic. He spoke of the creation of the earth as if he had been constructing a building by stretching out a line to make things level, then sinking of the bases and finally setting the cornerstone.

Thus, when he speaks of the morning stars singing, we know that there is also a fair amount of imagery involved here. He did not mean that the stars that we see in the sky on a clear night were singing as he created the earth. It was something else that was singing, and they were singing at the same time as “all the sons of God” were also shouting for joy.

These sons of God are not the same as when we refer to The Son of God, as in speaking of Jesus. These sons of God are spoken of in general terms, and are other created beings. They are heavenly beings. Spiritual beings. These, God had previously created and were already in existence when the earth was established. From what we read in other places in the Scripture, the morning stars seem to refer to the angels in heaven at the time. 

The Stars of the Churches

Near the beginning of the book of Revelation, when John was receiving the very first of a series of visions, he received from Jesus the commission to write a book in which he was to record what he was shown in these visions. It is the record of those visions is that we have in the book of Revelation.

John describes the appearance of Jesus and the fact that he was standing in the middle of seven golden lampstands with seven stars in his right hand. Upon seeing him, John says that he “fell at his feet like a dead man.” Jesus came to him and placed the same right hand on him to comfort him and to explain to him what he should do – how he must record in writing what he is about to witness. Then Jesus explained to him the meaning of the lampstands and the stars.

Jesus told him, “As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20 NAS).

It was after this that Jesus gave seven messages to the churches in seven cities of Asia Minor. These messages and churches themselves have meanings beyond merely a personal letter sent to a specific church. They were also messages to churches concerning the last days of the earth.

That which concerns us now about this part of the Revelation are the stars that Jesus was holding in his hand. These stars he calls “the angels of the seven churches.” All that this implies is largely unknown to us, but relevant to the subject of angels sometimes being represented by stars, here is a case where it is so. “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches,” Jesus told John. 

The Fallen Stars

Another instance where we see angels being represented by stars is in a negative connotation because it involves the great insurrection in heaven, when Satan and the demons rebelled against the authority of God.

Of this time, the prophet Isaiah wrote this as if speaking to Satan: 

But you said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will make myself like the Most High.”

Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit. (Isaiah 14:13-15 NAS) 

When Satan spoke of raising his throne above the stars of God, he meant it in the sense that he intended to assume an authority higher than had been allotted to him. In fact, he said, “I will make myself like the Most High.”

This was the rebellion of Satan against God. It was at this time that many of the angels of heaven also joined themselves with this rebellion – a third of them. At least, this is what we think. The Apostle John himself seems to be speaking of this time when he saw in one of his visions when he spoke a great red dragon who stood in opposition to the Christ child. John said that this dragon’s tail “swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth” (Revelation 12:4 NAS).

Admittedly, these are very enigmatic writings, but this interpretation is at least what I have come to believe. In the New Testament, both Peter and Jude wrote about angels who rebelled against God, a time which probably refers to the same event. But this is an entirely different study that I do not intend to enter into at this time.

The only point I wish to make here is that these angels, before they rebelled against God, were also referred to as “stars.” It is another instance in the Scripture where the term was used to illustrate heavenly beings.
 
Jesus as Lord of the Heavens



Thus, when Jesus called himself the Bright and Morning Star, he was referring to the reality that, besides being Lord of all creation on earth, he is also Lord of all creation in heaven. This is the One of whom the Apostle Paul wrote, “In him we have redemption through his blood and the forgiveness of our trespasses; a redemption that is in accordance to the riches of his grace... This purpose he set forth in Christ as a plan for the completion of time; that is, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:7-9).
 
Being Lord of the heavens is an indication of the priestly role of Jesus. The role of a priest is one who acts to bring reconciliation between God and all men and women. In fact, a true priest will provide means for all of creation to be reconciled to God.

Interestingly, this priestly aspect of the personality and nature of Jesus did not come to him by virtue of being a blood descendant of the priestly line of Levi of the Old Testament. The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews points out that true perfection in the priesthood can never come because of human succession. Instead, the writer makes reference to a rather
brief account in the book of Genesis chapter fourteen that is in some ways rather enigmatic and even cryptic. It involves a man of that time named Melchizedek.

Melchizedek came to bless Abraham after Abraham had won a great battle. Melchizedek is identified in this story as “a priest of the Most High God.” He came, bearing bread and wine and to bless Abraham in the name of the Lord. The writer of Hebrews says of Melchizedek, “He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever” (Hebrews 7:3 ESV).

This does not necessarily mean that this priest actually was someone or some being other than a true man, but only that he did not receive his office because he was the son of some previous priest, as did the Old Testament priests. Melchizedek received his office directly from God, in the same way that the Son of God continues forever as priest. However, whether this man was only a man, or if he was a pre-incarnate Christ, may be an interesting question for discussion, but it actually is not critical for us to know.

The important point of this entire account is what the writer of Hebrews says about Jesus: You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 7:17). It is on the strength of this lineage of priesthood, rather than the one named after the order of Old Testament priest Aaron, by which Jesus could say that he is the Bright and Morning Star – the Lord of all the heavens.

That is why Jesus is Lord of not only the earth, but he is also the Lord of heaven. It is as the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote, “All things are united in him.” In Christ, all things in heaven and on earth have come to the fullness of their destiny. All is under the Lordship of King Jesus!




 

What does this mean to you and me right now? In the very final words of the Scripture, Jesus tells us something that is his most important message for us. Parting words sometimes carry great weight. They are left repeating like an echo in our ears after all else has been said, and even long after the one with whom we have been talking has left.

The parting words of Jesus are like and echo in our ears. We will talk about that next time.




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