0 Dispensationalism


The Early Galilean Ministry
It is very difficult to chronologically correlate all the events in the Galilean ministry. The most difficult problem is the location of the Sermon on the Mount in the narrative. Matthew places it almost at the beginning of the ministry in Galilee right after Christ had called His first four disciples. The parallel passages in Luke place it at the beginning of the Second Galilean Period right after the choosing of the Twelve Apostles. There seems to be no mention of it in Mark. There is no doubt a dispensational design in this arrangement. Since Matthew is especially concerned with the Kingdom it is logical that he should place the Sermon at the very beginning of the King’s ministry. This Sermon was addressed to His disciples, and it seems unlikely He would have delivered it when He had called only four disciples. It is more logical to suppose that He first ordained His Twelve Apostles, and then delivered the Sermon to them, as the order is given in Luke. We will consider the Sermon in the latter position in the narrative.

This period extends from Jesus’ departure from Judea through Samaria to Galilee to His ordaining of the Twelve Apostles. It is thought to have covered about a four-month period.


1. The Beginning of This Ministry
References: Matt. 4:12,17; Mk. 1:14,15; Lk. 4: 14,15; John 4:43-45

Both Matthew and Mark state that it was after John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod that Jesus left Judea and departed into Galilee. Many of the Galileans had been at the feast in Jerusalem and had witnessed all that Jesus did there, and they received Him. Mark states that He came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, saying that the time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand: repent and believe the gospel. The Revised text reads “the Gospel of God,” omitting “of the Kingdom.” However, it is evident from what follows that it was the good news about the Kingdom. The Kingdom is mentioned 55 times in Matthew, 20 times in Mark, 45 times in Luke, and only 5 times in John. These figures show one of the great differences between the Synoptics and John.

2. The Second Sign – Healing of the Nobleman’s Son
Reference: John 4:46-54

This is Jesus’ second visit to Cana where He turned the water into wine. The nobleman lived at Capernaum. He had to travel about 15 miles to Cana to present his request to Jesus for the healing of his son who was at the point of death. The Lord had seen so many people who had professed to believe on Him because they had seen His miracles that He said to the man: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe.” But the man persisted: “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus then told him, “Go your way, your son will live.” The man believed without seeing a miracle and started for home. The next day his servants met him before he reached home with the news that his son had recovered. He asked the time when the fever left him and was informed it was 1:00 P.M., and that was the very hour that Jesus had told him that his son would live. As a result, his whole family became believers. This is the second sign which Jesus did.

We suggested earlier that there is a correspondence between the eight signs which Jesus did as recorded by John. We saw that the first corresponded to the eighth, and now we shall see that the second corresponds with the seventh, which is the Raising of Lazarus from the dead (11:1-44). The most evident similarity between these two signs is that the Ruler’s son was “at the point of death,” and the brother of Martha and Mary was actually dead and buried. There are other similarities: It was “after two days” the son was healed (cf. 4:43), and Jesus “abode two days” before going to raise Lazarus (11:6); in the one case it was a son, in the other a brother; in the one Jesus said, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe,” (4:48), in the other, “I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe,” (11: 15). The same verb is used for “the fever left him” and “loose him and let him go.”

When Christ began His ministry to Israel the nation was in the condition spiritually of the Ruler’s son: they were at the point of death. It should be remembered that Israel was in covenant relation with God, and they were still alive in the covenant. Christ could have brought them back to full spiritual health, but they rejected Him. After renewed mercy at Pentecost Israel had another opportunity to repent and enter into their promised Kingdom, based upon Christ’s prayer for their forgiveness and because they crucified Him in ignorance. But because of their further sin against the Holy Spirit in rejecting Him, they were cast off and reckoned no better than the Gentiles: dead in trespasses and sins, even as Lazarus was dead and buried for four days. One cannot imagine a more loathsome picture of the sinful state of humanity than of a body which had been dead for four days in the state described by Martha: “By this time he stinketh.” And yet, He who is the Resurrection and the Life is able to restore such a one, and this is exactly what Christ will do for Israel as a nation. One is reminded of the valley of dry bones in Ezek. 37: “Son of man these bones are the whole house of Israel… Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come tip out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel . . . And shall put my Spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord” (11-14).

In the first and eighth signs Israel is pictured as destitute of all of those things that make for an abundant life; in the second and seventh Israel is destitute of life itself. But in both, the glory and power of Christ is revealed as the Giver of life and every good and perfect gift in life.

While the application of these signs apphes primarily to that people and nation who require signs, they may be applied to individuals today who are dead in trespasses and sins, for Paul says: “And you hath He quickened or made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins . . . for by grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph. 2:1,8).

3. Jesus Rejected at His Home Town of Nazareth
Reference: Lk. 4:16-30

Luke alone records this incident, although there are passages in Matt. 13:54- 58 and Mk. 6:1-6 that deal with a later visit to the area of Nazareth. There the people were offended or caused to stumble concerning Jesus, for they said, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son and are not his brothers and sisters with us? He’s no better than the rest of us. He could not do any mighty works there because of their unbelief. In fact, He marvelled at their unbelief. Williams (Student’s Commentary of Holy Scriptures) in commenting on the Matthew passage thinks Jesus made only this one visit to Nazareth. It is difficult to fit these two passages into the narrative later on, and one wonders if the people tried to kill Him the first time why they would let Him back in the synagogue at Nazareth.

Jesus went to the synagogue as His custom was on the Sabbath day and was handed the scroll of Isaiah. He found the place in ch. 61:1 where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord,” and He closed the book and sat down. He then told them that this Scripture had been fulfilled in their ears, that is, that He was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. The audience could not help but wonder at the wonderful words of grace which Jesus spoke, but on the other hand they were saying in their hearts, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son who grew up in this town? What right does he have to claim such things for himself?” He knew their thoughts and quoted the parable: “Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done at Capernaum, do also here in thine own country.” In other words they were saying, “We’ve heard about all your wonderful works over at Capernaum, now let’s see you do some here.” But Jesus quotes two cases from the Scriptures where two of the greatest prophets did not act in accordance with this proverb. Although there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah during the great famine, he was sent to none of them but: to Zarephath in Sidon, a Gentile widow. Likewise there were many lepers in Israel in the days of Elisha, but none were cleansed, except Naaman the Syrian. They not only stumbled over Him (cf. Rom. 9:33, I Pet. 2:8) and were jealous of Him, but when He insinuated that Gentiles were better than they, they were enraged and expelled Him from the synagogue and tried to throw Him over the cliff upon which the city was built.

There is a striking likeness of this scene to that in Acts 22:21-24, where Paul in giving his defense before the Jews in Jerusalem stated that God had said unto him: “Depart (from Jerusalem), for I will send thee far hence to the Gentiles. And they gave him audience unto this word, and they lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live,” and as you know they would have killed Paul had not the Roman captain rescued him. What bitter enmity and jealousy there was between Jews and Gentiles, but Christ has through His death broken down that middle wall of partition; He has abolished that enmity; He has made peace between the Jew and the Gentile, and now in this present dispensation He is making out of both, Jews and Gentiles, One New Man, the Church which is His Body.

By comparing Jesus’ quotation from Isa. 61:1 with Isaiah you will note that Jesus ended the quotation in the middle of a sentence and did not quote the part about the day of vengeance of our God. This fact shows that Jesus Himself divided, yes, rightly divided the Scriptures. He quoted only that part that referred to His first coming, and omitted the part that refers to His second coming.

It was not possible that the Jews could have killed Jesus before His time had come, so we read that “he passing through the midst of them went his way and came down to Capernaum.” It is interesting to note the ups and downs in Scripture. We usually speak of going up north and down south, back east and out west, based upon the geographical location on the globe. In Scripture we go up to Jerusalem because we go up hill, and we go down to Jericho or the Sea of Galilee or the Jordan or the Dead Sea because they are all in a deep valley hundreds of feet below sea level.

4. Jesus Moves to Capernaum
References: Matt. 4:13-16; Lk. 4:31

Luke merely states the fact that Jesus came down from Nazareth to Capernaum, a city in Galilee. But Matthew states that Jesus went into this region to fulfill a prophecy uttered by Isaiah 700 years earlier. This region bordered the allotments of land that were originally given to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali (cf. Josh. 19:10-16 and 32-39). The prophecy quoted is from Isa. 9:1,2, just four verses before the well-known prophecy of the child born and the son given whose name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Father of the Ages, The Prince of Peace.

In order to understand this prophecy about Zebulum and Naphtali one must acquaint himself with the past history of this area, how it suffered the most from the invading Assyrians. It was a region that had been overrun perhaps more than any other by invading foreigners, so that it came to be known as the region and shadow of death. The place where Jesus decided to make His headquarters, Capernaum, was in the most despised region of Israel’s land, known as Galilee of the Gentiles. The sea in this passage is the Sea of Galilee. Isaiah of old saw the Messiah, the One born of a virgin (7:14) now come to sit upon the throne of David (9:7) and He comes to the darkest spot in Israel and there enlightens the people. This prophecy does not mean that Jesus went to this region to preach to the Gentiles, for He made it very plain that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but He went to this region which was called Galilee of the Gentiles. The people there saw a great light and how wonderful it would have been for them had they heeded Jesus’ message: “Repent and let the light in, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” But we know now they did not. In Mt. 11:20, Jesus began to upbraid the cities where He had done most of His mighty works: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. He said if the mighty works which had been done in Capernaum had been done in Sodom it would have remained to this day. It will be more tolerable for Sodom in the day of judgment than for these cities which saw such great Light and rejected it.

There seems to be a natural division of Matthew marked by the expression: “from that time.” The first “from that time” is right at the beginning of His ministry in 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” During the first half of Matthew Jesus was presenting Himself to Israel as their Messiah. But when it becomes evident the leaders have rejected Him the ministry changes. After Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, Jesus charged His disciples that they should tell no man that He was Jesus the Messiah. “From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (16:20,21). It is as though a bright light had been shining in the first half of His ministry but Israel closed her eyes to the light. In the second half it is as though a judicial blindness comes upon Israel, confirming their own self-imposed blindness. “From now on don’t tell any one I am Jesus the Christ.”

5. The Call of Simon and Andrew, James and John
References: Matt. 4:18-22; Mk. 1:16-20; Lk. 5:1-11

The accounts of Matthew and Mark are almost identical, but Luke gives added details of circumstances surrounding the calling of these four men. In fact, Luke’s account differs in so many respects that it is possible Luke tells us of a subsequent event very similar to the one described by the other two Evangelists. In Matthew and Mark Jesus was walking by the sea and saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, casting their nets into the sea, and He said to them, “Come along with me and I will make you fishers of men,” and they followed Him. Going further He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John, in the boat with their father, mending their nets, and He called them and they immediately followed Him. In Luke, on the other hand, there were multitudes listening to Him at the shore of the sea, and He saw two empty boats and He got into one which was Simon’s and asked him to push out from shore and He sat down in the boat and taught the people. When He had finished teaching He told Peter to go out into deeper water and cast his nets for a catch. Peter said they had fished all night and had caught nothing, but he would do as Jesus had said. Whereupon he enclosed a great multitude of fish so that his net was breaking, and he called for his partners, James and John to come to help him. After they got the fish safely to shore Jesus said to Simon, “Fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men,” and they left all and followed him.

If the event in Luke is distinct from that in Matthew and Mark, then this is the third account of these men being called. The first was in John 1:35; the second in Matt. 4:18, and the third in Lk. 5:10,11. Human nature is such that it is very difficult to make a complete break all at once and follow the Lord. Most often, as with these apostles, there is a series of experiences before there is a complete surrender. This last one in Luke seems to have sealed it for Simon, for when he saw their boats almost sinking with the great catch of fish, caught at a time fish are not normally caught, and caught after they had labored all night without success, he recognized Jesus truly as the Lord, and fell down before Jesus, saying: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” It is not until we see ourselves as sinful and experience that sense of unworthiness that we truly recognize Him as Lord. This has ever been the experience of true conversion (cf. Isa. 6:1-8; Acts. 9:4-6).

We are not told how much money these men made from the great catch of fish, but this may have been the Lord’s way of supplying their material needs, now that they were leaving the business world behind and giving full time to the ministry of the Word.

(Main Source: Understanding The Gospels – A Different Approach – Charles F. Baker)

NOTE: Dear friends, we wish to expand the ministry, Lord willing, and to distribute tracts to the Zulu people in the area in South Africa where we live.

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0 Dispensationalism



John alone gives us the record of this period of our Lord’s ministry. After His brief stay in Capernaum Jesus went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. When He entered the Temple He found stalls set up for selling sheep and oxen and doves and money changers doing business. Making a whip out of rope, He drove them all out of the temple, the animals as well as the dealers, and overturned the tables of the money changers along with their coins, and cried out to them: “Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise.” Whereupon the Jews asked Jesus for a sign which would give Him authority to do such things. The sign He gave was: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews reasoned that it had taken 46 years to build the temple: how then could He raise it up in three days. After the death and resurrection of Jesus the disciples remembered this saying of Jesus and understood that He was talking about the raising up of His body from the dead: not the temple of Herod.

Beholding the signs which Jesus did, many in Jerusalem believed on His name, but He did not trust Himself unto them, for He knew all men and what was in man. There was a particular man by the name of Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews who came to Jesus by night, confessing that Jesus was a teacher coming from God, since no man could do the signs that Jesus did except God be with Him. Jesus immediately got down to basics and told him he had to be born again of the Spirit of God in order to enter the Kingdom of God. Nicodemus seemed incapable of understanding spiritual truths. He replied: “How can these things be?” The discourse ended with a reference to the brazen serpent which Moses set up, and the familiar John 3:16, “God so loved the world,” and the conflict between light and darkness.

After this Jesus left Jerusalem and went to the northern area of Judea with His disciples, where John was baptizing at Aenon, near Salim. A discussion arose about baptism, during which a man came with a report that Jesus was baptizing more disciples than John, which gave John the opportunity to give another witness about Jesus.

When Jesus knew that the Pharisees had heard that He was making more disciples than John He left Judea and headed north for Galilee. To get to Galilee He had to go through Samaria and there He encountered the woman at the well. Through her conversion the whole city of Sychar turned out and many believed on His name, not because of the woman’s words, but because they heard Him personally and were persuaded that this is indeed the Savior of the world.


1. The First Passover and Cleansing of the Temple
(Reference: John 2:13-23)

The First Passover of His Ministry. As far as the Biblical record goes, this is the first Passover Jesus attended since He was 12 years old. We are certain that He must have attended others, since Joseph and Mary are said to have gone to Jerusalem every year for the Passover. All Jews everywhere tried to get back to Jerusalem for this important feast. Jesus, however, did not assert His authority until He became of age and began His public ministry. The Passover is mentioned 9 times in John (2:13,23; 6:4; 11:55; 12:1; 13:1; 18:28,39; 19:14). Thus, Jesus observed three Passovers during His ministry: this one, one in the middle; and one at the very end of His ministry. It is significant that He began and ended with the Passover, for He was to fulfill the Passover type, and thus become our Passover (cf. 1 Cor. 5:7).

A. Cleansing the Temple. In spite of the fact that the Jews had made the Temple a den of thieves, Jesus still recognized it as His Father’s house. The original temple built by Solomon had been utterly destroyed by the Babylonians. It was rebuilt under Ezra and Nehemiah, but with much less grandeur (Hag. 2:3). Finally, Herod became King in Jerusalem in 37 B.C. He decided to rebuild the temple, and first collected all of the materials before dismantling the old one. The new building was started 20 – 19 B.C. The disciples later on must have been impressed by the grandeur of the temple, for they undertook to show off the buildings of the temple to Jesus (Matt. 24:1,2), but He foretold how this beautiful structure would also be destroyed and left desolate because Jerusalem did not know the time of her visitation.

This action of Jesus of driving out the merchants and money changers and overturning their tables seems out of character for those who think only of Jesus as “meek and mild.” What will they think when they see Him coming in flaming fire to take vengeance upon those that know not God and obey not the Gospel? God’s attributes of love and mercy are balanced against His attributes of holiness and justice.

B. The Sign of His Resurrection. When the Jews asked for a sign of His authority He replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” There were many things which Jesus said which the disciples did not at the time understand, but later, after they had received the Holy Spirit they remembered the sayings and understood. Here they understood He was speaking of His human body. The Jews remembered this saying too and perverted it and tried to use it against Him at His trial (Matt. 26:61). The disciples remembered it and were profited by it: they believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.

C. Incomplete Faith. The people believed in His name when they saw the miracles He did. This kind of belief is inadequate and does not result in salvation. The word “believe” has in it the idea of commitment. The statement in vs. 24, “Jesus did not commit himself unto these believers,” contains the same Greek word used in vs. 23 and translated “believed” but here translated “commit.” Scriptural belief involves the element of committal, entrusting one’s self to God. To see a miracle worker and believe he has divine powers involved no sense of acknowledging one’s own sin and no element of committal. This fact is born out in the next section which deals with one of these men who had seen Jesus’ miracles and believed because of the miracles. Belief even caused him to seek out Jesus by night, apparently to avoid detection by other Jews, but Nicodemus was not saved by this kind of believing.

2. Discourse With Nicodemus
(Reference: John 2:23-3:21)

A. What Was in Man. Jesus knew what was in man. We can tell that from the way He dealt with Nicodemus. We don’t know why Nicodemus came to Jesus that night. As a ruler of the Jews he was surely interested in any religious developments. Perhaps he just wanted to check up on Jesus. Perhaps he had some questions. Perhaps he wanted to know how Jesus performed His miracles. Or perhaps it was just plain curiosity. It does not seem he was driven to Jesus by a sense of lostness, or by a desire to improve his relationship with God. As a Pharisee he would boast of being better than other men, of keeping the law in a blameless fashion. He was probably much like Saul of Tarsus, as Paul describes his situation before he met Christ (cf. Phil. 3:4-6). But Jesus knew what was in Nicodemus. Later on in some of His teaching He tells us what is in man. He knew that within every man is a nature of sin. “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies; these are the things that defile a man; but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man” (Matt. 15:19,20). Nicodemus got something that night he was not looking for.

B. What Christ Came to Put In Man. Jesus knew that Nicodemus needed not more religion but a new birth, which would give him a new nature. He needed to be born again. This was something that he couldn’t understand, for this was foreign to his way of thinking. What ridiculous ideas this Jesus had. How could a man enter into his mother’s womb and be born again? Jesus has to explain the most elementary truths to this one who was a notable teacher in Israel.

The flesh and the Spirit are two separate realms. That which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of Spirit is Spirit. The flesh cannot evolve into spirit any more than a rock can evolve into an animal. A man must have spiritual life to enter God’s kingdom; therefore, Nicodemus, you must be born of the Spirit. But Nicodemus wants to know how can these things be? Jesus used an illustration from the wind. The word wind and the word spirit are identical. When the wind blows, you can hear the sound it makes but you can’t tell where it came from and where it is going because it is invisible. So also is the Spirit. You can’t see how the Spirit operates any more than you can see how the wind blows. But you can see the effects of both the wind and the Spirit. The Spirit imparts new life and brings forth fruit of God. The song writer probably had this passage in mind when he wrote: “I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men of sin, revealing Jesus through the Word, creating faith in Him; but I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.”

Three times Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again, but the second time He added something. He said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit.. .” What does He mean by being born of water? Is this something different from just being born of the Spirit? Sacramentarians argue from this verse baptismal regeneration. Inserting such an argument in this context seems strange indeed, for if Jesus is saying anything at all He is saying that the physical, material world cannot in any way produce this new birth. How then could material water which can be seen, felt, and analyzed produce spiritual life?
Others take the water to be the water in which the fetus lives in its mother’s womb and therefore being born of water refers to our natural birth. The Living New Testament gives this as an alternate reading: “Physical birth is not enough. You must also be born spiritually.” We seriously doubt that Scripture ever uses water with this meaning. But the Scripture, and especially the Gospel of John, does often use water in a figurative sense. What did Christ mean when He told the woman at the well He would give her living water (John 4:10-14)? Or what did He mean by the rivers of living water which would flow out of man (ch. 7:38)?

In the very next verse John plainly states what He meant by water: “But this he spake of the Spirit.” Water and Spirit are both without the definite article and are connected by the conjunction “kai” (and). If this figure is used here the sense would be: Except a man be born of water, even spiritual water.

Water is also used to represent the operation of the Word of God, as in Eph. 5:26: “cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word.” And Peter speaks of being born again, not of corruptible seed, but by the Word of God (1 Pet. 1:23). Therefore, we prefer to believe this is the correct meaning of this passage. It is true that water baptism was being preached and practiced both by John and Jesus, and that baptism was required, just as animal sacrifices were, but water is never presented as a procuring cause of regeneration in Scripture. If the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin and make one a member of God’s family, surely water could not do so.

Nicodemus started out by telling Jesus what he knew, and Jesus ended up telling Nicodemus he was ignorant: “Are you a master teacher in Israel and knowest not these things?” If Nicodemus didn’t believe the earthly things Jesus told him, how could he believe the heavenly things? Jesus knew whereof He spoke, for He had come down from heaven. (Some ancient Greek texts omit the last clause of vs. 13, “which is in heaven .”) Jesus at that time as the Son of man was not in heaven but on earth. As God, of course, He is omnipresent.

Not only was it necessary for Nicodemus to be born again, it was necessary for the Son of man to be lifted up on the Cross to make it possible for man to be born again. The Lord had sent fiery serpents into the camp of Israel because of their murmurings and many died from being bitten (Num. 21:6-9). Moses was commanded to make a serpent of brass and place it upon a pole. Every one that looked upon it was healed of his bite. In like manner Jesus had to be lifted up on the Cross, to be made the condemned serpent in our stead, that condemned sinners might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

From the illustration of the brazen serpent it is certain that the expression in the next verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son,” refers to giving Him in the sense of the Cross, and not merely in incarnation as a Teacher. Because the verb here is in the past tense, indicating a finished past action, it appears that the discourse with Nicodemus ends with vs. 15, if not sooner. Not only are “loved” and “gave” in the past tense, but there are a couple of phrases in vs. 16 that are never used by Christ Himself, “only begotten Son,” and “believe on the name of.” John has a way of injecting explanatory words of his own, so that it is sometimes difficult to know where a break should be made. For example, see ch. 1:16-18 and 12:37-41.

The words “condemn” and “condemned” in vs. 17 and 18, and “condemnation” in vs. 19, should be rendered “judge, judged, and judgment.” The unbeliever has been judged already: judged by virtue of his unbelief. Their judgment resides in the fact that light has come into the world, and men as a class loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were (imperfect tense) habitually evil.

We are beginning to see several of the most important and most often used words’ in John: “believe” – 99 times, “world” – 79 times, “Father” – 156 times, “know” – 107 times, “abide” – 41 times.

(Main Source: Understanding The Gospels – A Different Approach – Charles F. Baker)


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4. The First Disciples

(Reference: John 1:35-51)

A. John Loses Two Disciples. The next day after the baptism of Jesus, John was standing with two of his disciples and saw Jesus walk by, and John said to them, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Immediately the two disciples left John and followed after Jesus. John had a very large following at first, but gradually his followers began to follow Jesus. A little later some of the people came to John with apparent concern that John was losing his followers: “And they came unto John and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him” (John 3:26). John’s reply was: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” This is a lesson for every servant of Christ. Preachers usually attract certain people. They like the preacher’s appearance, his manner of speech, his intelligence, his ability to expound the Scripture. They become his followers. There is always the danger that the preacher will forget John’s example here, that it is his business to decrease and cause Christ to increase. We are not to make disciples unto ourselves but unto Christ.

B. First Recorded Words of Jesus’ Public Ministry. When Jesus saw these two disciples of John, He turned and asked them, “What seek ye?” His next recorded words were, “Come and see.” We are doubtless familiar with His last words, spoken from the Cross, and the last words He spoke before His ascension, but what is perhaps just as important for us, is His word spoken to us from heaven through the Apostle Paul. We should be familiar with all the words He spoke, but especially with those He directed to us as members of His body.

C. The Names of the First Disciples. One of the first two to follow Jesus was Andrew, brother of Simon Peter. The name of the other disciple is not given, but it was apparently John, the writer of this Gospel. They came with Jesus to the place he was staying and it was about four in the afternoon (the tenth hour). (The first hour was sunrise, or six A.M. Ten hours later would be four P.M.) The very first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and tell him, “We have found the Messiah”(Hebrew word for “the Anointed One,” same as the Greek word “Christ”). And he brought him to Jesus. The lesson for us is obvious. Jesus not. only knew Simon’s name, He knew his nature and renamed him Cephas, or Peter, meaning “a stone.” (Cephas is Aramaic and Peter is Greek for “rock.”)

The next day Jesus started on His way and found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Here we learn that Philip, Andrew, Peter, and Nathaniel were all from Bethsaida, a town located at the northeastern end of the Sea of Galilee, just a short distance east of Capernaum, and between 80 and 90 miles north of Jerusalem. Philip finds Nathaniel and excitedly tells him, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” We have spoken earlier about the reputation of Nazareth, so it is no wonder that Nathaniel replies: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip didn’t argue with him, he just replied, “Come and see for yourself.”

The more we can get people into personal touch with the Lord Jesus, the more likely we are to win them; surely more likely than arguing with them. As Nathaniel approached Jesus, Jesus said: “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile.” This amazed Nathaniel and he asked, “How did you know me?” Then Jesus told him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you standing under the fig tree.” Apparently the fig tree was too far away for Jesus to have seen him with His physical sight, for this so impressed Nathaniel as Divine power that he cried out: “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, the King of Israel.” There are many such ascriptions to the Deity of Jesus Christ in the Gospels and in none of them does Jesus deny the fact. Either Jesus was or He was not the Son of God. There is no middle ground. If He was not then He was indeed a blasphemer, a mere man making Himself equal with God.

D. Greater Things to Come. Jesus asked Nathaniel, “Did you believe on me because I said I saw you under the fig tree? You are going to see something greater than that. Verily, verily, I tell you all, hereafter you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” These words remind us of Jacob’s dream, back in Gen. 28:12: “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.” In Jacob’s dream the angels were ascending and descending upon a ladder. In Christ’s words the angels are going to ascend and descend upon Himself. Christ is, therefore, the Ladder between earth and heaven. He is the way and the only way that man can reach heaven. The reference to the angels probably points to the future Kingdom when there will be visible communication between heaven and earth (Rev. 21:1-3).

This brief section has told us how disciples are made and how Christ is able to reveal Himself to others when we simply bring them to Him and let them taste for themselves.

5. The First Sign – Water Turned to Wine

(Reference: John 2:1-12)

A. Signs in John’s Gospel. The Bible uses a number of words to describe what we usually mean by the miraculous. There is the word “dunamis,” translated wonderful works, mighty works, miracles, the meaning of which is a display of great power .Then there is the word “teras,’ translated wonders, something strange which causes the beholder to marvel. Another word is “thambos,” translated wonder and amazement, describing the effect of a miracle upon the beholder. Finally, there is the word “semeion,” meaning a sign, mark or token. It is used 17 times in John to describe the mighty works of Jesus, being translated miracle 13 times and sign 4 times. A sign signifies or points out something, even as a sign on a place of business indicates what kind of establishment it is.

There are eight great signs in John’s Gospel. They point out, first of all, the power and glory and Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then, as we shall see, they also point out certain truths concerning the nation of Israel. And further, there seems to be a correspondence between the first and the eighth, between the second and the seventh, between the third and the sixth, and between the fourth and the fifth.

It might be well at this point to remember that the Jews require a sign (1Cor.1:22). From the very beginning of the national life of Israel God has dealt with that nation through signs. Nineteen times in the Pentateuch alone God speaks of the signs He wrought when He delivered Israel out of Egypt. Signs are mentioned 75 times in the O.T. Isaiah and Ezekiel are full of signs. The Kingdom Gospel which Jesus gave to the Twelve Apostles to preach had signs which accompanied it (Mk.16:17,18).

B. This is Jesus’ First Miracle. This fact is stated in vs. 11: “this beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee.” We mention this fact merely to silence all of the myths which sprang up about miracles which Jesus did even as a baby.

C. The Narrative. There was a marriage in Cana of Galilee and the mother of Jesus was there. This indicates that she was probably one of the relatives, for she is not said to have been invited, as Jesus and His disciples were. It should be observed that Jesus often entered into social times with the people. The Pharisees murmured at Him because He received sinners and ate with them (Lk. 15:2). In Lk. 7:33,34 the Lord said: “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.”

D. The Miracle. Mary discovered they had used up all the wine and so she came to Jesus and told Him, “They have no wine.” Catholics use this passage to bolster the doctrine that Mary is the Intercessor so that whatever we ask of Mary, she will intercede with Jesus to do, However, notice Jesus’ reply: “Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.” This was a reprimand. He did not even call her Mother, but Woman. Up until now He had recognized His relation to His mother and family in the flesh, but now that He has begun His public ministry He is no longer merely Mary’s Son, but Mary’s Lord. He is now taking orders, not from His mother but from His Father in heaven. Mary apparently recognized her mistake and bowed out of the picture, saying to the servants: “Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.”

There were six stone water pots there, containing twenty or thirty gallons, which were used in purification ceremonies. Jesus told the servants to fill them with water and then draw some out and take to the master of ceremonies. This they did and when the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine and not being aware from where it came, although the servants knew, he said to the bridegroom, “Every one puts out the good wine at the beginning of the feast and later on that which is worse, but you have kept the good wine until the last.”

After the wedding feast Jesus, accompanied by His mother, brethren and His first five disciples went down to Capernaum, about 16 miles to the northeast, and remained there a few days.

E. The Sign. It is obvious that this miracle was a sign of the Deity of Christ, for He created wine out of plain water. Christ as the Word was introduced by John in chapter one as the One by whom all things were made that were made, and that without Him not anything was made that was made. Paul in Col. 1:16 says, “For by him were all things created that are in heaven and earth.” And John tells us in connection with this first sign, “Jesus manifested forth his glory and his disciples believed on him.”

We believe that this miracle could also be pointing to the day when Christ’s glory will be manifested, not in a little village in Galilee, but in the whole universe, when He comes again as King of kings and Lord of lords. Isa: 62:4, 5 predicts a great wedding in the future when Israel is married unto Jehovah, and Rev. 19:7-9 speaks about the future Marriage of the Lamb. Both of these prophecies point to Millennial times, when Israel is restored, and the glory of Christ is manifested throughout the whole earth.

F. The Counterpart Sign. We believe it will be helpful to include at this point the eighth sign which corresponds to the first. The sign is recorded in John 21:1-14. This incident took place after the resurrection of Christ at the Sea of Tiberias, which is another name for the Sea of Galilee. Seven of the disciples were together, probably not knowing what to do with themselves after the events of the past few days, when Peter said, “I’m going fishing,” which was his old trade. The others said, “We will go with you.” They fished all night but caught nothing. When morning came Jesus stood on the shore but they didn’t recognize Him. Then Jesus asked them, “Do you have any fish?” They answered, “No.” Then He shouted, “Cast the net on the right side of the ship and you will find.” Upon casting their net, it was filled with fish, so many they could not draw it in.

The disciple whom Jesus loved, that is John, said, “It is the Lord.” When Peter heard that he put on the fisher’s coat and jumped into the water and swam ashore. The others came in a dinghy dragging the net behind them. On shore they found a fire of coals with fish cooking and bread. Jesus told them to bring the fish they had caught, and they counted 153 great fish but the net was still intact. Then Jesus said, “Come and dine,” and He gave them to eat. This was the third time Jesus showed Himself to His disciples after His resurrection.

Notice now the correspondence between the marriage at Galilee and the miraculous catch of fish. At one they had no wine, at the other they had no fish. The first happened on the third day; the other was the third time Jesus has manifested Himself to His disciples. In both cases it is stated that Jesus manifested Himself (2:11 cf. 21:14). In both cases there are numbered objects: 6 water pots and 153 fish. In both cases Jesus commanded something to be done: “fill the water pots with water,” “cast the net on the right side of the boat.” In both cases the same verb is used: “enegko,” translated “bare” in 2:8 and “bring” in 21:10.

Both of these signs depict the ability of Christ to supply sustenance far in excess of their needs: about 150 gallons of wine and 153 great fish. These signs show the riches of God’s grace. One is reminded of Paul’s statement: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Eph. 3:20,21). The blessing in these signs, will come upon Israel in the Kingdom age. The spiritual blessings of Paul’s epistles are for us today.

(Main Source: Understanding The Gospels – A Different Approach – Charles F. Baker)


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2. The Temptation of Jesus

(References: Matt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12,13; Lk. 4:1-13)

A. The Temptation Spirit Directed. All three Evangelists emphasize this fact. Matthew states He was led of the Spirit; Mark that the Spirit driveth Him forth; and Luke, He, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit. This may at first seem very strange that the Holy Spirit, who is one of the Persons of the Godhead, should fill and lead the Son, another Person of the Godhead. However, we must not lose sight of the humanity of Christ in considering this problem. Christ as a man, grew in wisdom and knowledge; as a man He hungered and thirsted. And it was as a Man He was filled with the Spirit and was led by the Spirit.

B. Circumstances Surrounding the Temptation. He was led into the wilderness of Judea. His baptism had taken place at the Jordan River somewhere between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. John 1:28 states that these things were done at Bethabara, east of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. The location of Bethabara is uncertain. Some place it near the Dead Sea and others a few miles south of the Sea of Galilee. The region around the Dead Sea is a wilderness indeed, as anyone can testify who has visited the region. Mark adds the detail that He was with the wild beasts and the angels ministered unto Him. The first Adam was tempted in a beautiful garden filled with food: Jesus in a barren wilderness without food.

C. The Length of the Temptation. We know He was in the wilderness for forty days and that He ate nothing during that time. It is not clear whether Satan came with his temptations during the forty days, or at the end of the period. It would appear that the temptation came at the end of the forty days when Jesus hungered. Humanly speaking, a fast of more than forty days would probably prove fatal. When Mark tells us that angels came and ministered to Him, this was probably after Satan’s temptation, since Mark does not give any details of the temptations.

D. The Order of the Temptations. Matthew gives the following order of the temptations: 1. Command the stones to become bread. 2. Jump from the pinnacle of the Temple. 3. Worship Satan and receive all the kingdoms of the earth. Luke, on the other hand, gives this order: 1. Command the stones to become bread. 2. Worship Satan and receive all the kingdoms of the earth. 3. Jump from the pinnacle of the Temple. This difference in order might not even be noticed by the average reader, but for some it presents a real problem. Some would say that either Matthew or Luke was mistaken and therefore there is an error in the Bible. Others believe there was a divine design in changing the order. Williams, for example, states:

The order of the temptations here (in Matthew} is historical; in Luke it is dispensational. There is therefore an inner harmony, for Matthew presents Him as the Messiah coming to His temple, and then as the Son of man reigning over the earth. But the Spirit in Luke places His relation to the earth in the foreground, and His connection with Israel in the background.

We may not be able to explain to the satisfaction of all the difference in the order, but we believe if all of the surrounding facts were known there would be no contradiction or mistake. If Matthew or Luke could be in error here, every writer of the Bible could be in error any place and we could have no assurance that anything in the Bible is true.

E. The Nature of the Temptation. The question arises, was the purpose of the temptation to see if Jesus would sin, or to prove that He could not sin? To say yes to the first proposition is to say that Jesus was capable of sinning. Those who hold this view claim that the temptation would have been a farce if Jesus was incapable of sinning. We have spoken before of the many mysteries surrounding the nature of the God-man, or more correctly of the two natures of the one Person. Jesus Christ is not two persons. He was a person before His incarnation and He was one and the same person after His incarnation. To say that it was possible for Jesus to sin is to say it was possible for the Son of God to sin. But it is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18). Therefore we conclude that the purpose of the temptation was to prove that Jesus Christ was sinless and therefore able to become the Savior of sinners.

When a manufacturer puts his product to a public test, he does not do so to see if it will break down, but to prove that it will not. As noted earlier, the first man was tested in innocency. His test was in a beautiful garden where God had provided for his every need. There was just one restriction. Surely no more ideal a situation could be conceived to make it easy for man to pass the test. But Jesus was placed in a desert wilderness where there was no food, surrounded by wild beasts. After forty days His body was weakened, His body craved food. He had the power to create food to satisfy His appetite. Under other circumstances there would have been nothing wrong in turning the stones into bread, even as on two occasions He multiplied the loaves and fishes. But in this circumstance He would have violated God’s will in yielding to Satan’s temptation to satisfy His own appetite. If Jesus could pass the test under such adverse conditions, surely He proved His absolute holiness.

If Jesus could not sin, can we really call this a temptation? The word peirazo, according to Thayer’s Lexicon means: “to try whether a thing can be done, to try, make trial of, ‘test, to test one maliciously, to try or test one’s faith.” If students are given a test and one student knows perfectly all of the answers, it is still a test. Jesus was tested in all points like as we are, yet apart from sin (Heb. 4:15).

The practical result of His temptation, aside from proving Him fit for the office of Savior, was to fit Him to become a faithful and merciful High priest who could be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Since He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted (Heb. 2:18).

The Scripture is the best shield from temptation. On all three occasions Christ responded, “It is written.” Someone has said of the Bible: “This book will keep you from sin, and sin will keep you from this book.”

Note that the first temptation was quite subtle: you are hungry. You may even die. You have the power, why don’t you turn the stones into bread and save yourself?. But Christ had come to minister to others, not to minister to Himself. He never used His divine power for selfish purposes. He could have called for twelve legions of angels when He hung on the cross, but He didn’t. To cast Himself off the pinnacle of the temple and then call upon the angels to catch Him was not quite so subtle. It would have involved a public display and would have brought the angels in subjection to Satan’s will.

The third temptation abandoned all disguise and called for Jesus to fall down and worship Satan. Satan claimed to own all the kingdoms of the world, and Christ did not dispute this fact. Would it not be much easier to become King over all these nations simply by giving allegiance to Satan, rather than follow the Father’s will which involved the suffering of the Cross? How many a man has succumbed to Satan’s temptation for worldly power and fame and has ended up in his trap. Thank God, the Lord Jesus proved Himself true to the Father’s will and went all the way to the Cross and will someday return to take His rightful place as King of kings and Lord of lords.

Many Christians either do not know or do not believe that Jesus Christ will actually come back to earth to reign as King over the nations of the earth, but Satan knew it. There would have been no basis for a temptation had it not been in the purpose of God for Christ to so reign.

3. John’s Testimony of Jesus

(References: Matt. 3:11,12; Mk. 1:7,8; Lk. 3: 16,17; John 1:15-34)

A. John’s Witness to Christ’s Pre-existence. “John bare witness of him, and cried saying, This was he of whom I spake, he that cometh after me is preferred before me, for he was before me” (John 1: 15). John was born six months before Jesus was, but Jesus was before John. John must have known of the Incarnation and that Jesus did not come into being at His birth but existed as a person before His birth.

B. John’s Witness to Christ’s Pre-eminence. “He that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear” (Matt. 3:11). John was the greatest of the prophets, but Jesus was far more worthy. John lowers himself as far as possible by saying that, lower than the most menial servant in comparison, he was not even worthy to carry Jesus’ shoes or to fasten them on His feet.

C. The Apostle John’s Witness. The Apostle John often interrupts the words of Jesus by his own comments, and it is sometimes difficult to know whether it is John’s words or the words in this case of John the Baptist. We believe John the Apostle is speaking in John 1:16-18. John wrote these words some 25 years after Paul’s death. He tells us that we have received of His fulness, and grace for grace, or grace upon grace (cf. the manifold grace of God, 1 Pet. 4:10). The law was given by Moses and Christ lived under the law, but He brought the law to an end in His death, so now we read, “But grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” These words must have been said after Jesus’ death.

D. John the Baptist’s Witness About Himself. The Jews sent priests and Levites to John to ask: “‘Who art thou?” He answered: “I am not the Messiah.” They asked him further, “Art thou Elias? Art thou that prophet?” and he answered, “No, I am not.” Again they asked, “Who art thou, that we may give answer to those who sent us?” He then answered: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias” (cf. Isa. 40:3).

It may seem strange that John would deny being Elijah, since Christ said that he would have been Elijah had Israel received Him. God had promised in Mal. 4:5, “Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.” John did come in the spirit of Elijah as we have seen. The Jews apparently were looking for Elijah to come back down from heaven, even as he had been taken up into heaven in a whirlwind many years before from almost the same area of the wilderness (2 Kings 2:1-11).

We read that John was in the desert until the day of his showing unto Israel (Lk.1:80). He was thus isolated from society and was a stranger to the religious leaders. When these leaders began to hear reports about John and how his ministry was similar to that of Elijah, they sent messengers to find out who he was. His sudden appearance made it seem that he had come down from heaven. Could this be the very same Elijah who had been taken to heaven without dying? If this was their question, we can understand why John answered, “No, I am not.”

E. John’s Recognition of Jesus as the Lamb of God. The next day after the Jews had questioned him John saw Jesus coming unto him and said, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not, but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water” (John 1:29-31). Twice in this context John says that he did not know Jesus before this incident took place. This could surely not mean that he had never met Jesus, for he was a close relative and no doubt he had learned as a child the strange events which surrounded both his birth and that of Jesus.

Since John had lived all his adult life in the desert it is possible that he did not recognize Jesus when he first saw Him. Or as some think, he did not know that Jesus was the Messiah until after His baptism when he saw the Spirit of God descending upon Him. It is evident that John must have had communion with God and that God had spoken directly to him, for in vs. 33 he says: “he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” Thus John could have been acquainted with Jesus but he did not know Him as the Messiah until God revealed it to him.

The name Jesus means Savior, and the fact that He would save His people from their sins had been made known even before His birth. Just how Jesus would save His people from their sins had not been dearly revealed, but John here introduces Him as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. Although not clearly stated, the Lamb suggests sacrifice., It is not until we come into the Pauline epistles that we find the full exposition of the meaning of the sacrificial death. We no doubt have an intimation of it here, however.

In this passage John also gives us another reason for his practice of water baptism. It was not only a baptism of repentence for the remission of sins, but it was for the purpose of introducing Jesus to Israel as their Messiah. In practicing water baptism Christians should ask whether or not they are carrying out this two-fold purpose: receiving remission of sins and introducing Jesus to Israel as Messiah.

John concludes his witness to Jesus in this section: “And I saw, bare record that this is the Son of God.” Thus, John witnesses to fact that Jesus Pre-existed, that He is Preeminent, that He is the Lamb of God, that He is the Son of God. And whether it was the Apostle or the Baptist who said it, Grace and truth, in contrast to the came by this Jesus Christ.

(Main Source: Understanding The Gospels – A Different Approach – Charles F. Baker)


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The Inaugural Period begins with the ministry of John the Baptist in calling the people of Israel to repentance, and includes the Baptism of Jesus by John, the Temptation of Jesus by Satan in the wilderness, John’s Testimony concerning Jesus, the Calling of the first disciples, and the first Miracle of Jesus at Cana in Galilee.

Next to Jesus Christ, and perhaps to Peter, John the Baptist is the most important person in the Gospels. While the name of Jesus appears some 615 times in the Gospels, Peter occurs about 94 times, and John 85 times. But since John was beheaded early in the Gospel records, and Peter is found throughout, John actually has the numerical superiority. Numbers are not necessarily a criterion of importance, but at least Christ spoke very highly of John’s importance: “But what went ye out to see? A prophet? Yea, and I say unto you much more than a prophet. This is he, of whom it is written, Behold I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Lk. 7: 26-28).

Jesus left Nazareth and went to Bethabara to be baptized by John. This was His inauguration into His public ministry. Immediately after this He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where He was tempted by the Devil for forty days, Matthew has Him going immediately to Galilee to Nazareth and Capernaum, as does Mark. Luke has Him going to Galilee and preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth. The gospel of John does not mention either the Baptism of Jesus or the Temptation, but he has Him in Galilee finding some of His first disciples, performing the first of His miracles at the wedding in Cana, and then going for a brief stay in Capernaum with His mother and brothers.


1. The Ministry of John the Baptist Including the Baptism of Jesus

(References: Matt. 3:1-17;Mk. 1:1-11; Lk. 3:1-23)

A. The Person of John. We have seen who John was from his birth and parentage. What further does Scripture say about him? The angel told Zacharias he would come in the spirit and power of Elijah. When the disciples came down from the mount of transfiguration, where Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus, the disciples asked why the scribes say that Elijah must first come and restore all things. Jesus replied, “Elijah truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, the Elijah is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist” (Matt. 17:10-13). Also in Matt. 11:14 Jesus said of John: “And if ye will receive it, this is Elijah, which was for to come.” Thus, if Israel had received John the Baptist, he would have been the Elijah who was to come. But they did not receive him or Christ, and it appears that there must be one in the future who will fulfill this office to Israel. Many suppose that one of the two witnesses of Rev. 11:3 will be Elijah, although neither of these witnesses is received by Israel, nor do they restore all things.

B. The Baptism of John. John came preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Some suppose, because the word baptism first occurs in our English Bibles in connection with John, that John was the first to practice baptism. However, Heb. 9:10 informs us that Judaism had its standing in meats, and drinks, and divers or various baptisms. The Mosaic ceremonial had many baptism rites which had been practiced for 1500 years before John came on the scene. The people did not ask John what baptism meant, but why he was baptizing if he wasn’t the Messiah. But John was a priest and the priests were the ones empowered to practice baptism.

John’s baptism was for the remission or forgiveness of sins. A great deal of confusion arises when water baptism or even the forgiveness of sins is equated with personal salvation. What most students fail to recognize is that Israel as a nation was in covenant relationship with God, a relationship shared by no other nation in history. The covenant made them near to God, whereas the Gentiles were far off. This fact is clearly stated by Paul in Eph. 2:17. Now that Israel has fallen and has been set aside for the duration of this dispensation, there are no people who can claim a nearness to God by nature. All are far off and can only be brought near through the merits of the blood of Christ. But when John came preaching the baptism of repentance Christ had not yet shed His blood and there was a nation that could claim nearness to God. This covenant people had transgressed the covenant and John came to call them back to a place of fellowship with God within the covenant.

Today when we preach the Gospel of salvation, we do not ask people to become readjusted to the covenant by baptism and repentance. We tell people that they are lost, without hope, and without God, and that God has provided a way through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ to justify them before God and give them eternal life. This salvation is given as a gift of grace and received through faith apart from our own good works. After we accept this message of salvation our personal lives may still fall short of the standard God has set for us and there is then need for us to repent and to change our mind about our life and to confess our sins to God and receive forgiveness from our Father. This is not an experience of getting saved all over again, but simply a renewal of one who is already saved. Thus there is a vast difference between an unregenerate sinner coming to God by faith and receiving remission of the eternal penalty of sin, and the coming of one who is already saved and keeping his manner of life adjusted to the will of God by admitting his shortcomings and being restored to a place of fellowship and blessing. John’s message of repentance to Israel was in many ways similar to the latter experience. He was not making them God’s people: they were already that by the covenant but was calling them back to fellowship and blessing.

C. The Mode of John’s Baptism. Nothing is said of the actual mode, which could have been sprinkling, pouring, or immersion. That was not the important thing. The important thing is that baptism was for cleansing. All of the many baptisms of the Old Testament were for cleansing. When John was baptizing at Aenon we read that a question arose about purifying or cleansing (John 3:25). Why a question about purifying? Simply because that was the purpose of baptism, to cleanse at the time. What did the Lord tell Saul to do when he was converted?

“Arise, and be baptized, washing away thy sins” (Acts 22:16). What were the Jews supposedly doing when they baptized their couches, their pots and pans (Mk. 7:4)? The meaning is so evident that the translators used the word “wash” to translate baptism. There is a mistaken idea, based on Rom. 6:3,4 that baptism represents a burial. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In Romans Paul is talking about the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit that identifies the believer with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.

D. The Baptism of Jesus. The question John asked, and the question anyone would ask is, “If baptism represents a cleansing from sin, why would Jesus present Himself as a candidate for baptism?” Matthew alone voices tiffs objection by John. John recognized that he was a sinner and needed rather to be baptized by Christ. But Jesus answered him: “Suffer it to be so now; for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness.” What does this mean? Jesus was here being inducted into His office of Prophet, Priest, and King. Under the law when a priest was inducted into office he was first washed with water and then anointed (Ex. 29:4-7). Here Jesus submits to John’s washing and that was followed by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, which descended upon Him as a dove, with the accompanying voice from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

The name “Christ” means the anointed One. Christ thus identified Himself with His sinful people in view of that final identification upon the cross, where He took the sinner’s place and thus righteously satisfied the penalty of the law. He was reckoned among the transgressors. He was made sin for us, although He was sinless, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him. Jesus Christ is the only person who could have thus fulfilled all righteousness. When people say they are following Jesus in baptism, they may be sincere, but they are sincerely wrong. They might as well speak of following Christ in His death on the Cross. Only He could do this work.

E. The Baptism with the Holy Spirit and Fire. John predicted that the Messiah, who would take up where he left off, would baptize the people, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and fire. We know that Christ did baptize His Jewish believers with the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost in the Book of Acts. Luke calls this baptism an “enduement with power from on high” (Lk. 24:49). This baptism was manifested by outward signs, tongues of fire, speaking with other tongues, the sound as of a mighty rushing wind. We believe that this baptism which Christ performed at Pentecost is an entirely different work from that described by Paul in 1 Cor. 12:13, where the Holy Spirit is said to baptize the believer into the one Body of Christ.

The baptism with fire has not yet taken place. Notice that immediately following the statement about baptizing with fire, John says: “but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable” (Lk. 3:16,17). Therefore we believe the baptism with fire will occur at the second coming of Christ, when He comes in flaming fire, taking vengeance upon them that know not God (2 Th. 1:8). Some believe that the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire is just one baptism and that the fire refers to the tongues of fire that appeared at Pentecost.

F. John’s Preaching. John insisted that the people produce works which proved they had repented. Being naturally descended from Abraham was not enough. See Rom. 9:6-13 for Paul’s discussion of relationship to Abraham. Luke gives us some of the answers John gave to different classes who asked what they should do to prove their repentance. The people were not saved by their works. Their works were the result of their repentance. Believers today are not saved by works, but they are saved unto good works (Eph. 2: 10; Tit. 3:8,14).
(Main Source: Understanding The Gospels – A Different Approach – Charles F. Baker)


0 Dispensationalism




4. Infancy of Jesus (References: Matt. 2:1-23; Lk. 2:21-39)

Let us first piece together the narrative from these two Gospels. Luke tells of the circumcision of Jesus when He was eight days old, and of the prophesying of Simeon along with the words of Anna on that occasion. After vs. 38 we must turn back to Matthew where we learn of the visit of the Magi, which occurred somewhat later, and then of Herod’s plot to kill the infant Jesus, of God’s warning to Joseph to flee into Egypt with the child, and of their stay there until Herod’s death. Luke takes up the story again at this point and simply states that they returned to Galilee to their own city of Nazareth. However, Matthew fills in details, how they feared to return to Judea when they heard that Herod’s son had become king, so they turned aside into Galilee and settled down in Nazareth.

A. The Circumcision of Jesus. It is evident that Jesus was born and lived under the dispensation of the Law. On the eighth day His parents brought Him from Bethlehem to Jerusalem for His circumcision and for offering the sacrifice demanded by the law. Paul states this truth in Gal. 4:4: “In the fulness of time God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” It is most important to remember that we today live in an entirely different divine dispensation from that under which Jesus lived and ministered.

B. The Prophecy of Simeon. The important dispensational part of Simeon’s prophecy is, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel: and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (yea, and a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” The A.V. translation is faulty, as it predicates the failing and rising of the same persons: the fall and rising again of many. The American Revisers give it correctly: the falling and the rising.” The many of that generation fell; the many of a future generation of Israel will rise again.

Paul is the Apostle who announces the fall of Israel and the future rising or fulness of Israel in Rom. 11:11-32. It is of utmost importance to know when the fall of Israel took place and its effect. Many dispensationalists, as well as most non-dispensationalists, suppose that the fall of Israel occurred at the Cross. They therefore begin the new Christian dispensation on the day of Pentecost. But what are the scriptural facts?

Christ prayed for the forgiveness of those who crucified Him; Peter stated that they had done this in ignorance and that God would restore the Kingdom to them if they would repent; and it is plainly stated in Acts 3:26 that it was to Israel first after God had raised up His Son that God had sent Him to bless them. The fall of Israel came after Pentecost and after the Apostolic testimony of the resurrection of Christ. It was because of Israel’s fall that God raised up a new apostle to announce that fall and the beginning of a new dispensation. Paul’s statement is very clear: “through their (Israel’s) fall, salvation is come unto the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:11). The first Gentile to be saved was in Acts 10 and the door of faith for the Gentiles was not opened until Acts 13 (cf. 14:27). Pentecostalism is the logical outcome of beginning the new dispensation at Pentecost. Scripture plainly indicates it began with Paul at the fall of Israel.

But Christ was also set for the rising of many in Israel. And Paul tells of this also. “Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles, how much more their fulness? For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?” (Rom. 11:12,15). And he goes on to show that the whole nation of Israel is going to be saved after this gentile dispensation is ended.

C. The Visit of the Magi. It is commonly supposed that the Magi came to Jesus on the night He was born in the manger. The shepherds did come on that glad night. However, it appears that the Magi arrived somewhat later. Jesus was not in a manger when they arrived, but in the house (Matt. 2:11). When Herod plotted to take the life of the infant Jesus, he inquired diligently of the Magi when the star first appeared to them, and then he issued his decree that all children under two years of age in that region should be killed (Matt. 2:16). Why “under two years” if Jesus was but a few days old? Jesus might have been over a year old when Herod acted.

D. Dreams. God dealt with Israel through dreams, visions, and signs. Note that it was in a dream that God told Joseph that Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit; it was by a dream that he warned Joseph to flee into Egypt; it was by a dream that he informed Joseph to return to Israel now that Herod was dead (cf. Hos. 11:1); and it was in a dream that he warned Joseph not to go into Judea but return to Galilee. Note God’s promise to Israel: “your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (Acts. 2:17).

It is important to note that God does not give people extra-biblical revelation through dreams and visions. Christians who are ignorant of this fact try to interpret their dreams as additional messages from God and end up in confusion and fanaticism. He can speak through dreams, if he chooses, but we must keep in mind that the Bible is complete, having revealed everything we need to know from now to eternity. This is not to say, that God does not work miracles or even speak through dreams today, but anything God says, whether through a dream, vision, impression, or “still voice,” will agree completely with what He has already revealed in His Word. Dreams cannot usurp the authority of Scripture.

E. The King of the Jews. It is significant that the Magi spoke of Jesus as King of the Jews. And, of course, it is significant that these astrologers from an eastern country, perhaps Persia, should have known about the Jewish Messiah. It must be remembered that the Jews were taken captive by the Babylonians and that prophets like Daniel became high government officials in Babylon and Persia. The Jews who returned under Ezra and Nehemiah must have left behind a great deal of knowledge of these prophetic events and apparently the wise men of that area were more diligent than the Jews in studying the prophecies.

Much speculation has been made about the star they saw: was it a nova, a conjunction of two or more planets, or something miraculous. We believe it was not a natural phenomenon, for it is difficult to understand how such a heavenly body which rises and sets every night, tracing the same course across the heavens, could have been a means of guiding the Magi, and especially of pinpointing the very house in which the child lay. It seems more likely that it was a manifestation of the Shekinah glory of God which appeared as a point of light similar to that of a very bright star but which must have been at a much lower elevation, so that it would stand over the very house where Jesus was. The miraculous Light had appeared before, as the glory cloud to give light to Israel when they came out of Egypt, in the most holy place of the tabernacle and temple, from which it departed in the days of Ezekiel (Ezek. 10:4-19). Now the One had come who was the embodiment of the Shekinah glory (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4-6).

5. The Childhood of Jesus (References: Matt. 2:23; Lk. 2:40-52)

This period covers approximately ten to twelve years in the life of Jesus which is passed over in silence except for one event when Jesus was twelve years of age. It is recorded by Luke that Joseph and Mary journeyed from Nazareth to Jerusalem every year to attend the feast of Passover, but there is no record that Jesus went with them except on the occasion when He was twelve years old. After the feast when the family started their journey home, they didn’t notice that Jesus was not in the company until the end of the first day. Discovering His absence, they retraced their steps and searched everywhere in Jerusalem without success, everywhere except in the Temple. They surely wouldn’t expect to find a twelve year old boy in the Temple. It was the last place they looked after three days of frantic searching, and to their amazement there He was answering and questioning the great theologians of the day. Even the doctors of the Law were astonished at His knowledge. His mother remonstrated with Him, “Son, why hast thou dealt thus with us? Behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” But He answered them: “Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what He meant. After that Jesus submitted Himself to His earthly parents, went home with them, and was subject to them until the time that He should be revealed to Israel.

A. The Humanity of Jesus Christ. Luke’s gospel emphasizes the humanity of Christ. Christians are sometimes afraid to speak of the humanity of Christ, for fear they will be accused of denying His Deity. But He was the God-man and we must give equal emphasis to His humanity and His Deity. The fact of the Incarnation is stated in Scripture, but the how of it is not. How the eternal Son of God could become a human body, helpless in His mother’s arms, how the One who existed in the form of God from all eternity could grow, and wax strong in spirit (vs. 40), how He could increase in wisdom and stature is a mystery we can never fathom. His conception by the Holy Spirit was miraculous, but from there on as far as His humanity was concerned, everything was natural. The nine-month period of gestation was normal, as with any pregnancy. His birth was normal and natural. There was no halo about His head as He lay in the manger. He looked like any other Jewish child of His day. He no doubt had to learn to walk and to talk like any other child. His body grew and became larger and stronger. His human mind increased in wisdom and knowledge. But, we ask, how could this be if He was the eternal Son of God? We cannot explain the how, but we can understand from the Word the necessity of His taking upon Himself a true human nature and a body of flesh and blood, so that as a Man He might die for our sins and shed His human blood, and so that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest who can be touched with the feelings of our infirmities, and become the One Mediator between God and man.

Very early in the Christian era heresies arose over the Person of Christ. There were those who taught that Jesus was just a man but that the Christ spirit came upon Him at His baptism and then left Him at His death. Others taught that Jesus was not a true human being, but that He was a sort of apparition, appearing as a man but without an actual human body. Still others thought that Jesus was a kind of mixture of human and divine, half God and half man. Yet others held that the Divine Spirit took the place of the human spirit in Jesus. These controversies raged for four hundred years until finally in 451 A.D. at the Church Council of Chalcedon the orthodox statement was formulated from Scripture, holding that in the one Person of Jesus Christ there are two natures, a human nature and a divine nature, each in its completeness and integrity, and that these two natures are organically and indissolubly united, yet so that no third nature is formed thereby. We must not divide His Person or confound His Natures. Jesus Christ is unique. There is no other person with whom to compare Him. We must simply believe what God has told us about Him in His infallible Word. To rationalize and try to explain Him is futile. We might as well try to put the whole ocean in a bucket. If we could explain Jesus Christ, He would be but a finite being unworthy of our adoration and worship.

B. Jesus Called a Nazarene. Matthew simply tells us that Jesus came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. Strangely enough, there is no recorded statement in the prophets that the Messiah was to be called a Nazarene. Matthew does not say it was written in the prophets, but spoken by the prophets, so it may be that the prophets had announced this orally but had never written it. Others take it to mean that Nazareth was despised by most Jews, on the basis of John 1:46, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?,” and therefore a Nazarene means a despised one, and the prophets predicted Messiah would be despised and rejected of men.

6. The Eighteen Silent Years at Nazareth Until the Age of 30 (Reference: Lk. 2:51; 3:23)

The Gospels are completely silent concerning this period in the life of Jesus from the age of 12 to 30 years. We know that Joseph was a carpenter by trade, for the people asked: “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Matt. 13:55). And it is evident that Jesus Himself worked in the carpenter’s shop, for in Mk. 6:3 the question is asked: “Is not this the carpenter?” referring to Jesus. If the Gospels were mere human productions they would no doubt contain much about the youthful life of Jesus. God’s design, however, was not to tell of the work His earthly (legal) father gave Him to do, but the work His heavenly Father sent Him to do. Hence His years up to the age of 30 are passed over in silence, except for the visit to the temple at the age of twelve.
(Main Source: Understanding The Gospels – A Different Approach – Charles F. Baker)


0 Dispensationalism




1.     Annunciation and Birth of John the Baptist

(Reference: Lk. 1:5-25; 57-80)

Luke alone gives an account of the birth of John the Baptist. His father, Zacharias, belonged to the priestly tribe of Levi, as did his mother, Elizabeth. (This is not the same Zachariah as the prophet in the Old Testament.) They were advanced in years and Elizabeth had never been able to have children. Back in the days of King David the priesthood had been divided into twenty-four courses, each course serving in the temple for one week, twice a year (1 Chron. 24:10). While in the holy place an angel appeared unto him and announced that Elizabeth would bear a son who would have the spirit and power of Elijah and was to be named John. Zacharias just could not believe such a thing could happen, and for that reason he was stricken dumb until the prophecy should be fulfilled.

Zacharias went home to his wife after his service in the temple, and she conceived and in due time the child was born. On the eighth day the relatives and neighbors gathered for the circumcision ceremony and they all called his name Zacharias after his father, but Elizabeth said, “Not so, but he shall be called John.” They remonstrated with her that none of her kinfolk bore that name, and then asked Zacharias what name he wanted the child to have. He called for a writing pad and wrote, “His name is John,” and immediately his speech was restored. The people marvelled and fear came upon them and all wondered what manner of child this would be, as the story spread throughout the hill country of Judea.

Then Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit and he began to prophesy. His prophecy concerned the Messiah who was not yet born and his own son John. Even though Jesus would not be born for another six months, Zacharias praised God for rising up a Horn of salvation for Israel in the house of His servant David. It is most important to note that Zacharias, filled with the Holy Spirit, brings the same message as did the O.T. prophets concerning God’s promise to the nation of Israel for a physical, earthly kingdom. Theologians of the Post-millennial and Amillennial schools claim that the Jews were greatly mistaken in supposing that God intended to establish them in a literal, material kingdom. They claim that all of these promises which the Jews took literally must be spiritualized. Thus, they teach that Jesus came only to establish a spiritual kingdom in the hearts of men. But what did the Spirit-filled Zacharias in the N.T. say?

“As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; the oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life” (Lk. 1:70-75).

Although the actual word “kingdom” does not occur in this passage, it is plainly intimated by the reference to this Deliverer who is raised up in the house of David, and by the twice repeated reference to salvation, not only from sin, but from Israel’s enemies. But it is argued that these could not be physical enemies, such as the Romans, because the Jews were never delivered from them. What proponents of this objection fail to understand is that this deliverance was conditioned upon Israel’s repentance and acceptance of the Messiah. These conditions become evident later on in the preaching of Jesus and of the apostles, (cf. Lk. 19:41-44; Acts 3:18-26). The fact that the generation of Israel rejected the Messiah does not mean that these national promises of the kingdom will never be fulfilled. God swore with an oath to Abraham and He promised David that even though Israel failed He would finally restore His kingdom, (2 Sam, 7:5-17). Therefore, this Davidic covenant must yet be fulfilled.

Zacharias also prophesied that John would be called the prophet of the Highest, to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord, and to give the knowledge of salvation unto Israel by the remission of their sins. All what we are told of his childhood is that he grew and became strong in spirit and lived in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

2.     Annunciation and Birth of Jesus

(References: Matt. 1:18-25; Lk. 1:26-56; 2:1-20; John 1:14)

Luke also tells of the annunciation to Mary by the angel Gabriel. It took place six months after Elizabeth had conceived John. This is the first “hail Mary.” Roman Catholics have repeated it millions of times since then.

Truly, Mary was highly honored to be chosen to be the mother of the humanity of God’s Son, but the high honor bestowed upon her, exalting her as immaculately conceived and higher than Christ himself, substituting her as the intercessor between God and man, when Scripture states there is only one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5), is an invention of the Roman Church.

When the angels said, “Thou hast found favor with God,” he used the word which is almost always translated “grace.” This is the first time grace is mentioned in the N.T. and one of the eight times it is used in Luke, which may indicate the influence of the Apostle of Grace upon Luke. Mary needed the grace of God just like any other human. If Mary had been sinlessly conceived as Romanists aver, she would not have needed a Savior; but in the Magnificat she exclaims: “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior” (vs. 47).

Matthew says nothing about the annunciation to Mary but he does tell us that Mary was espoused to Joseph and that she was found to be with child before they had come together. According to the law Joseph could have called for her death (Deut. 22:20-24), but because he was a just man he decided to follow Deut. 24:1 and put her away quietly. But an angel appeared unto him in a dream and told him not to fear to take Mary to himself, because the conception had been by the power of the Holy Spirit and the child should be named Jesus for He shall save His people from their sins. Upon awaking, Joseph took Mary as his wife, but had no sex relations with her until she had brought forth her firstborn. Catholic doctrine refuses to accept this plain statement of Matt. 1:25. Mary had other children after Jesus was born. Ch. 13:55,56 names four brothers of Jesus as well as sisters.

Matt. 1:22 is the first of the many “that it might be fulfilled” statements in Matthew. Here the fulfillment is the Virgin Birth as predicted in Isa. 7:14.

Returning to Luke’s account in ch. 1:32,33 God makes it abundantly clear that the N.T. and the O.T. are in perfect agreement on the subject of Israel’s promised kingdom. God is going to give to Jesus the throne of His father David, and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever and of His kingdom there shall be no end. Some theologians claim we today are spiritual Israelites but we have never heard any claim to be spiritual Jacobites. Jacob was his natural name: Israel his divinely given name. Christ is going to reign over the house of Jacob. Notice too that the Kingdom will have no end. The Millennial form of the Kingdom will have an end, but the Kingdom will continue after that in the new earth without end. After the last enemy is subjugated under the feet of Jesus, there will be no further need of Jesus to reign with a rod of iron, as in the Millennial Kingdom (Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15, cf. 1 Cor. 15:26-28).

Luke gives a very detailed account of the actual birth of Jesus, which might be expected from a medical doctor. His mention of the taxation which was made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria helps to tie in the birth of Christ with secular history and it provides another example of the Providence of God: how He works through seemingly unrelated events to bring about His ends. It was because of the taxation that Joseph and Mary had to take the journey down to Bethlehem to enroll and while there Mary’s time to be delivered came. Thus, Jesus was born in Bethlehem instead of Nazareth and a prophecy uttered 700 years earlier was fulfilled (Mic. 5:2). One would have thought that God would see to it that His Son was born in the most pleasant and commodious surroundings, perhaps in the palace of the king, but this was the first step in His humiliation. There was no room in the inn, so He was born in a stable (cf. Phil. 2:5-8).

Luke also is the one who has given us the beautiful store of the shepherds. It was a joyous announcement: “Peace on earth, good will toward men.” But before the ministry of Christ had ended He was being rejected by Israel, so that He had to change all of that joyous message and instead ask: “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division” (Lk. 12:51). It has been said that there can be no lasting peace on earth until Israel is established in her land, until Christ is in His rightful place on the throne of David, and until Satan is in his appointed place, the lake of fire.

There has been much controversy over the date of Christ’s birth. There are several logical arguments against the traditional date of Dec. 25 for the birth of Christ. It is argued that the shepherds would not be abiding in the open fields with their flocks in the dead of winter, not only because of the cold nights (it does snow in Jerusalem), but because there would be no pasturage at that season. It is also argued that the Roman government would not choose a time for the enrollment when it would be most difficult for the people to travel back to their own cities. And then the improbability of Mary in her condition taking this trip on donkey-back of some seventy miles in the winter is pointed out. From May through October there is no rain in Israel, but in December the almost continuous winter rains set in which continue through February. The hill country through which they travelled had an average elevation of 3000 feet. Such a journey through cold rains and even snow would surely have been a most difficult trip for a woman ready to give birth to a child.

It may at first seem strange that Mary who belonged to the tribe of Judah had a cousin, Elizabeth, who belonged to the priestly tribe of Levi. Edersheim, an authority on Jewish matters, states:

There can be no question, that both Joseph and Mary were of the royal lineage of David. Most probably the two were nearly related, while Mary could also claim kinship with the Priesthood, being, no doubt, on her mother’s side, a blood relative of Elizabeth, the Priest-wife of Zacharias. Even this seems to imply that Mary’s family must shortly before have held higher rank, for only with such did custom sanction any alliance on the part of Priests.

(Main Source: Understanding The Gospels – A Different Approach – Charles F. Baker)