Christ Impaled, “The Power of God”
“The Jews ask for signs and the Greeks look for wisdom; but we preach Christ impaled, to the Jews a cause for stumbling but to the nations foolishness.”—1 Cor. 1:22, 23.
1. (a) What conditions in the Christian congregation in Corinth caused Paul to stress Christ impaled? (b) What points did Paul make at 1 Corinthians 1:17-25 that now concern us?
IT WAS to the Christian congregation at Corinth that Paul wrote the above words about “Christ impaled.” The Corinth of Paul’s day was a cosmopolitan city, with Romans, Greeks, Orientals and Jews. In the Christian congregation there, some divisions existed because certain groups aligned themselves with prominent individuals. As a result of this, Paul said: “The Christ exists divided.” (1 Cor. 1:13) There also may have been a tendency for some of the Jewish Christians to cling to certain features of the Law, or for some of those of other races to be impressed with the eloquent ways of the Greek philosophers. But the Gospel was not to be preached with lofty words, nor was it to be adulterated with the wisdom of religious traditions or philosophical speculations. Whatever the case was there in Corinth, the apostle Paul saw fit to bear down hard on the need to limit preaching to “Christ impaled.” His words at 1 Corinthians 1:17-25 did this, and they form the basis for this article and the one that follows. He wrote:
“Christ dispatched me . . . to go declaring the good news, not with wisdom of speech, that the torture stake of the Christ should not be made useless. For the speech about the torture stake is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is God’s power. For it is written: ‘I will make the wisdom of the wise men perish, and the intelligence of the intellectual men I will shove aside.’ Where is the wise man? Where the scribe? Where the debater of this system of things? Did not God make the wisdom of the world foolish? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through its wisdom did not get to know God, God saw good through the foolishness of what is preached to save those believing. For both the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks look for wisdom; but we preach Christ impaled, to the Jews a cause for stumbling but to the nations foolishness; however, to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because a foolish thing of God is wiser than men, and a weak thing of God is stronger than men.”
2. What marked Jesus’ anointing, and in what activity did he engage?
2 As shown by this quotation, ‘the Jews asked for signs.’ Were not ample signs provided by Jesus? He came to the Jordan River in 29 C.E. and presented himself for baptism. As he came up out of the water, God’s spirit in the form of a dove descended upon him, and Jehovah’s voice from heaven said: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved.” After spending 40 days in the wilderness and successfully resisting the Devil’s temptations, Jesus began preaching the kingdom and performing miracles. Matthew records the effect of this activity: “He went around throughout the whole of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom and curing every sort of disease and every sort of infirmity among the people. And the report about him went out into all Syria; and they brought him all those faring badly, distressed with various diseases and torments, demon-possessed and epileptic and paralyzed persons, and he cured them. Consequently great crowds followed him from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from the other side of the Jordan.”—Matt. 3:13-17; 4:23-25.
“WE WANT TO SEE A SIGN”
3. What signs did Jesus perform, yet what request did the scribes make?
3 So astounded were the people by his miraculous works that they viewed him as the promised Messiah. “When the Christ arrives,” they asked, “he will not perform more signs than this man has performed, will he?” Jesus turned water into wine, walked on water, calmed the winds and quieted stormy seas, miraculously fed thousands on a few loaves and fishes, cured the sick, made the lame walk, opened the eyes of the blind, cured lepers and even raised the dead. Who could ask for more than this? The religious leaders of the Jewish nation could and did. They had been eyewitnesses of many of these signs by Jesus, and had received reports of many more of them. But in spite of that, the scribes and the Pharisees came to Jesus with what seems like an appalling request: “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”—John 7:31; Matt. 12:38.
4, 5. In view of their profession, what should these scribes and Pharisees have known that should have convinced them of Jesus Messiahship?
4 Of all men to ask for additional proof of Jesus as Messiah, these religious leaders should have been the last! The scribes spent their lives poring over the Hebrew Scriptures. They were meticulous in their study of them, and debated long and tediously with one another to come to right conclusions as to their application. They had accumulated a vast array of oral tradition that purported to explain and clarify the Hebrew Scriptures in all their minute details. And in their studies they surely knew of the prophecies foretelling the coming of the promised Messiah.
5 They knew, did they not, that Messiah was to be of the tribe of Judah, of the family of David, born in Bethlehem, that his coming was to be heralded by one likened to Elijah, that he was to carry the sicknesses and pains of the Jewish people? Over 300 Hebrew prophecies concerning the Messiah’s first coming were fulfilled in Jesus—many of them already fulfilled when they came to ask Jesus for a sign. Jesus reminded them that because of their study of the Scriptures they should know about him: “You are searching the Scriptures, because you think that by means of them you will have everlasting life; and these are the very ones that bear witness about me.”—John 5:39.
6. How did Jesus reply to their request, and why not scornfully?
6 So, did the Son of God answer with withering scorn when they said: “We want to see a sign from you”? Let us see: “In reply he said to them: ‘A wicked and adulterous generation keeps on seeking for a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah the prophet. For just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.” (Matt. 12:38-40) No, Jesus reply did not berate them for ignoring the many miraculous signs already given, or for their failing to be convinced by Messianic prophecies already fulfilled in him. He understood them, their desire, their error, and his reply came to grips with such a situation.
THE SIGN THEY WANTED
7, 8. What sign did the Jews want to see, and what was the only one they would get, and why?
7 Jesus knew the sign that they wanted to see. It is recorded at Daniel 7:13, 14: “I kept on beholding in the visions of the night, and, see there! with the clouds of the heavens someone like a son of man happened to be coming; and to the Ancient of Days he gained access, and they brought him up close even before that One. And to him there were given rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him. His rulership is an indefinitely lasting rulership that will not pass away, and his kingdom one that will not be brought to ruin.”
8 This signified the Messiah’s second coming, when the Messianic kingdom will replace all oppressive human governments and will bring in permanent peace and tranquillity earth wide for Jehovah’s worshipers. The Jewish rulers were wanting the Messiah to come in kingly power, break the oppressive yoke of Rome from off their necks, and exalt them with political power. They were running ahead of Jehovah. This was the first coming of the Messiah, when he was to suffer and die as a ransom and be in the grave for parts of three days. That sign of the first coming was all they would get.
9. What did the Jews of Jesus’ day fail to discern, and what yearning of theirs blinded them to the recognizing of Jesus as Messiah?
9 Not only did those Jews not get the sign they wanted from the Messiah; they got what stumbled them completely, namely, an impaled Messiah! Paul wrote: “The Jews ask for signs and the Greeks look for wisdom; but we preach Christ impaled, to the Jews a cause for stumbling but to the nations foolishness.” (1 Cor. 1:22, 23) What caused the Jews’ downfall was their failure to discern the two comings of Messiah. There were two sets of prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning Messiah: one set for his first coming, the other set for his second coming. (See table on page 1148 of the book Aid to Bible Understanding for first-coming prophecies and their fulfillment; a few of those relating to the second coming are Daniel 7:13, 14; 2:35, 44; Psalms 2:1-9; 110:1-6.) The Jews, however, failed to discern two comings. They believed in one only. Yearning for their Messiah to come in power and break the Roman yoke from off their necks, they blinded themselves to his coming as a suffering, persecuted, rejected, impaled Messiah. Actually, their views of Messiah were confused. Many Messianic prophecies they did not discern as such. Some Jews did not even believe in a personal Messiah. Others selfishly did not want him to come and antagonize Rome. (John 11:47, 48) But many clamored for his coming as a militarist to deliver them from Rome.
“A WEAK THING OF GOD”
10. (a) Why did the Jews view Jesus as “a weak thing of God,” and how did he differ from false messiahs of that first century C.E.? (b) As disclosed by The Interpreter’s Bible, what state of affairs in Palestine at that time made Jesus unacceptable to the Jews?
10 This Jesus was weak in their eyes—much too weak to fulfill their hope of a messiah to crush the Roman Empire. Did he not say that his kingdom was not of this world and that his servants would not fight? He flatly refused the kingship when it was offered. He advocated turning the other cheek! They were expecting their Messiah at this time—but not this one! (John 18:36; 6:15; Matt. 5:39; Luke 3:15) The Book of Jewish Knowledge, under “Messiah,” says that there were several in the first century C.E. who claimed to be the Messiah, and then adds: “Now the extraordinary thing about these first-century claimants for Messianic distinction was that each served as a rallying point for Jewish revolt against Roman rule. Unlike Jesus, . . . the other ‘messiahs’ of that period were, without exception, militant firebrands and patriots.” These foregoing failures of Jesus to show himself a strong Messiah were bad enough in their eyes, but when he ended up dying ignominiously on a torture stake it made him totally unacceptable! Hence, at 1 Corinthians 1:25 the apostle Paul showed that the Jews viewed “Christ impaled” as “a weak thing of God,” and were completely stumbled. On this The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 10, p. 29, comments:
“Jewish religious hopes in the days of Paul were based on apocalyptic expectation of a dramatic, catastrophic deliverance from Roman oppressors: they looked for a deliverer who would make the nation supreme among the nations of the world. Part of their deep disappointment in Jesus in the days of his flesh is directly traceable to his refusal to give to the nation military leadership, after the style of the Maccabees. In Paul’s day Palestine was like a banked fire. Rome procurators were able to extinguish the licking flames of sporadic, local insurrection; but the banked fire was a different matter. Had Jesus at the height of his popularity but given the word, thousands of swords would have leaped from their scabbards, and Rome might have been hard put to it to contain the eruption of the pent-up religious idealism and fanatical nationalism of the Jews. To a people whose imagination and spirit were fired by such ideas and such apocalyptic hopes the sign of a ‘Christ crucified’ was an unspeakable offense. To them the word of the cross was an utterly repellent thing. They would have none of it.”
11. Under what misunderstanding did even the close disciples of Jesus labor, and on what basis do you so answer?
11 Even the close associates of Christ Jesus did not understand until later about the two comings of the Messiah, and that this first coming would end with “Christ impaled.” In jail John the Baptizer heard of Jesus’ miraculous signs but seemed to expect more, for he sent this inquiry to Jesus: “Are you the Coming One, or are we to expect a different one?” Peter identified Jesus as the Messiah, but still did not understand the signs in fulfillment of the first coming. (Matt. 16:16, 21-23) Even after Jesus’ death and resurrection his disciples still expected the establishment of an earthly kingdom at this first coming. They asked: “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?”—Matt. 11:2, 3.
TORTURE STAKE NOT MADE USELESS
12. Eventually, how did some Jewish religious leaders attempt to cope with the two sets of prophecies concerning two advents?
12 After the outpouring of holy spirit at Pentecost in 33 C.E., Jesus’ disciples understood the two comings, and everywhere preached “things the Prophets as well as Moses stated were going to take place, that the Christ was to suffer.” (Acts 26:22, 23) Christian arguments from the Hebrew Scriptures and shattered Jewish hopes prompted later Jewish scholars to reinterpret Messianic prophecies. For example, Daniel 7:13 said that Messiah would come in the clouds of heaven, but Zechariah 9:9 said that he would come humbly riding on an ass. One opinion found in the Talmud sought to offset this problem by teaching only one coming—that if Israel were worthy Messiah would come in the clouds, but if Israel behaved unworthily he would come on the ass. (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 98a) Another approach recognized the two sets of prophecies, for a first and a second coming, and said that there were to be two messiahs, one the son of Joseph and one the son of David, and between them they would fulfill both sets of prophecies. (Edersheim’s Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. II, pp. 434, 435) However, both were to come at the same time.
13. (a) What Jewish beliefs eliminated Jesus as Messiah, in their view? (b) How did these Jewish beliefs make the torture stake useless?
13 They maintained, though, that Jesus could be neither of these messiahs. For Jesus did not follow the oral traditions of the scribes, and to go against them, the Talmud says, is more punishable than going against the Hebrew Scriptures. Also, Jesus said he would fulfill the Mosaic law—thus ending it. But the Jews considered it to be eternal, never to be abrogated. Moreover, the Jews believed that they needed no messiah for salvation. They could gain the kingdom in three ways: by performing works of the Law, by giving alms to the poor, by having Abraham as their father. (Matt. 3:7-10; Rom. 3:20; 4:2, 3; 9:31, 32) Such wisdom of the scribes would make the torture stake a useless thing, not needed for salvation. Paul had this false wisdom in mind when he contrasted its futility with God’s power, Christ impaled. He did not declare as “good news” their “wisdom of speech, that the torture stake of the Christ should not be made useless. For the speech about the torture stake is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is God’s power.”—1 Cor. 1:17, 18.
14. (a) Who taunted Jesus on the torture stake, and with what words? (b) What did the events at that time really confirm?
14 What if Jesus did go like a sheep to the slaughter, afflicted, despised, undesired, rejected? (Isa. 53:1-7) What if he did seem weak and impotent hanging up there on the torture stake, while some taunted: “Bah! You would-be thrower-down of the temple and builder of it in three days’ time, save yourself by coming down off the torture stake.” (Mark 15:29, 30) And “in like manner also the chief priests with the scribes and older men began making fun of him and saying: ‘Others he saved; himself he cannot save!’” (Matt. 27:41, 42) Rather than disqualifying Jesus, these events confirmed his Messiahship.—Ps. 118:22; Isa. 8:14; 28:16; 1 Pet. 2:4-8.
15. How was “Christ impaled” viewed by those perishing and by those saved, and what fact remains true despite the scoffers’ taunts?
15 Paul is determined to stress the ransom provision of Jehovah as the only means of salvation. The Jews may want signs and the Greeks may crave wisdom, but Paul will preach “Christ impaled,” though it stumble Jews and seem like folly to Greeks—“however, to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because a foolish thing of God is wiser than men, and a weak thing of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor. 1:22-25) Let Jews and Greeks view “Christ impaled” as weak and foolish; it is still far stronger and wiser than Jewish traditions and Greek philosophies. Further reasons appear in the article that follows.
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Although Jesus walked on water and performed many other miracles, the Jewish religious leaders wanted “a sign”—additional proof that he was the Messiah