Christ—The Focus of Prophecy
“The bearing witness to Jesus is what inspires prophesying.”—REVELATION 19:10.
1, 2. (a) Starting in 29 C.E., what decision confronted Israel? (b) What will be considered in this article?
THE year is 29 C.E. Israel is abuzz with talk about the promised Messiah. The ministry of John the Baptizer has heightened the sense of expectation. (Luke 3:15) John denies being the Christ. Instead, pointing to Jesus of Nazareth, he says: “I have borne witness that this one is the Son of God.” (John 1:20, 34) Soon, crowds follow Jesus to listen to his teaching and to be healed by him.
2 In the months that follow, Jehovah provides a mountain of testimony concerning his Son. Those who have studied the Scriptures and who observe Jesus’ works have a solid basis for putting their faith in him. However, God’s covenant people in general show a lack of faith. Relatively few acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. (John 6:60-69) What would you have done if you had lived back then? Would you have been moved to accept Jesus as the Messiah and become his faithful follower? Consider the evidence about his identity that Jesus himself gives when he is accused of breaking the Sabbath, and note subsequent proofs that he gives in order to strengthen the faith of his loyal disciples.
Jesus Himself Gives the Evidence
3. What circumstances impelled Jesus to give evidence about his identity?
3 It is Passover time in 31 C.E. Jesus is in Jerusalem. He has just cured a man who had been sick for 38 years. The Jews, though, persecute Jesus for doing this on the Sabbath. They also accuse him of blasphemy and seek to kill him because he calls God his Father. (John 5:1-9, 16-18) The defense that Jesus gives in his own behalf presents three powerful lines of reasoning that would convince any honesthearted Jew of Jesus’ true identity.
4, 5. What was the purpose of John’s ministry, and how well did he accomplish it?
4 First, Jesus points to the witness of his forerunner, John the Baptizer, saying: “You have dispatched men to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. That man was a burning and shining lamp, and you for a short time were willing to rejoice greatly in his light.”—John 5:33, 35.
5 John the Baptizer was “a burning and shining lamp” in that prior to his unjust imprisonment by Herod, he had fulfilled his divine commission to prepare the way for the Messiah. John said: “The reason why I came baptizing in water was that [the Messiah] might be made manifest to Israel. . . . I viewed the spirit coming down as a dove out of heaven, and it remained upon him. Even I did not know him, but the very One who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘Whoever it is upon whom you see the spirit coming down and remaining, this is the one that baptizes in holy spirit.’ And I have seen it, and I have borne witness that this one is the Son of God.”* (John 1:26-37) John specifically identified Jesus as the Son of God—the promised Messiah. So clear was John’s witness that some eight months after his death, many honesthearted Jews confessed: “As many things as John said about this man were all true.”—John 10:41, 42.
6. Why should Jesus’ works have convinced people that he had God’s backing?
6 Next, Jesus uses another line of reasoning to confirm his credentials as the Messiah. He points to his own fine works as evidence of God’s backing. “I have the witness greater than that of John,” he says, “for the very works that my Father assigned me to accomplish, the works themselves that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father dispatched me.” (John 5:36) Even Jesus’ enemies could not deny this evidence, which included numerous miracles. “What are we to do, because this man performs many signs?” certain ones later ask. (John 11:47) Some, though, respond favorably and say: “When the Christ arrives, he will not perform more signs than this man has performed, will he?” (John 7:31) Jesus’ listeners were in an excellent position to discern the Father’s qualities in the Son.—John 14:9.
7. How do the Hebrew Scriptures bear witness about Jesus?
7 Finally, Jesus draws attention to an unassailable witness. “The Scriptures . . . are the very ones that bear witness about me,” he says, adding: “If you believed Moses you would believe me, for that one wrote about me.” (John 5:39, 46) Of course, Moses was just one of the many pre-Christian witnesses who wrote about the Christ. Their writings include hundreds of prophecies and detailed genealogies, all pointing to the Messiah. (Luke 3:23-38; 24:44-46; Acts 10:43) And what about the Mosaic Law? “The Law has become our tutor leading to Christ,” wrote the apostle Paul. (Galatians 3:24) Yes, “the bearing witness to Jesus is what inspires [or, is the whole inclination, intent, and purpose of] prophesying.”—Revelation 19:10.
8. Why did many Jews not put faith in the Messiah?
8 Would not all this evidence—John’s explicit witness, Jesus’ own powerful works and godly qualities, and the monumental testimony of the Scriptures—convince you that Jesus was the Messiah? Anyone who had genuine love for God and for his Word would readily see this and exercise faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah. Such love, though, was basically lacking in Israel. To his opposers, Jesus said: “I well know that you do not have the love of God in you.” (John 5:42) Rather than “seeking the glory that is from the only God,” they were “accepting glory from one another.” No wonder they were at odds with Jesus, who like his Father abhors such thinking!—John 5:43, 44; Acts 12:21-23.
Fortified by a Prophetic Vision
9, 10. (a) Why was the timing of a sign for Jesus’ disciples providential? (b) What remarkable promise did Jesus make to his disciples?
9 Over a year has gone by since Jesus gave the aforementioned proof of his Messiahship. The Passover of the year 32 C.E. has come and gone. Many who believed have ceased following him, perhaps because of persecution, materialism, or the anxieties of life. Others may be confused or disappointed because Jesus rejected the people’s efforts to make him king. When challenged by the Jewish religious leaders, he refused to provide a self-glorifying sign from heaven. (Matthew 12:38, 39) This refusal may have puzzled some. Furthermore, Jesus has begun to reveal to his disciples something they find very difficult to grasp—“he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the older men and chief priests and scribes, and be killed.”—Matthew 16:21-23.
10 In another nine to ten months, it would be time “for [Jesus] to move out of this world to the Father.” (John 13:1) Deeply concerned about his loyal disciples, Jesus promises some of them the very thing he denied the faithless Jews—a sign from heaven. “Truly I say to you,” Jesus says, “there are some of those standing here that will not taste death at all until first they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28) Obviously, Jesus is not saying that certain ones of his disciples will live until the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom in 1914. Jesus has in mind giving three of his intimate disciples a spectacular foregleam of his glory in Kingdom power. This visionary preview is called the transfiguration.
11. Describe the transfiguration vision.
11 Six days later, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up into a lofty mountain—likely a ridge of Mount Hermon. There, Jesus is “transfigured before them, and his face shone as the sun, and his outer garments became brilliant as the light.” The prophets Moses and Elijah also appear, conversing with Jesus. This awesome event possibly takes place at night, making it especially vivid. In fact, it is so real that Peter offers to erect three tents—one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. While Peter is still speaking, a bright cloud overshadows them and a voice out of the cloud says: “This is my Son, the beloved, whom I have approved; listen to him.”—Matthew 17:1-6.
12, 13. What impact did the transfiguration vision have on Jesus’ disciples, and why?
12 True, Peter had recently testified that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16) But imagine hearing God himself give his testimony, confirming the identity and the role of his anointed Son! What a faith-strengthening experience the transfiguration vision is for Peter, James, and John! With their faith thus greatly fortified, they are now better prepared for what lies ahead and for the important role they will play in the future congregation.
13 The transfiguration makes a lasting impression on the disciples. Over 30 years later, Peter writes: “[Jesus] received from God the Father honor and glory, when words such as these were borne to him by the magnificent glory: ‘This is my son, my beloved, whom I myself have approved.’ Yes, these words we heard borne from heaven while we were with him in the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:17, 18) John is equally moved by the event. More than 60 years after it occurred, he apparently alludes to it with the words: “We had a view of his glory, a glory such as belongs to an only-begotten son from a father.” (John 1:14) Yet, the transfiguration is not to be the last of the visions granted to Jesus’ followers.
Further Enlightenment for God’s Loyal Ones
14, 15. In what way was the apostle John to remain until Jesus came?
14 After his resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples by the Sea of Galilee. There he tells Peter: “If it is my will for [John] to remain until I come, of what concern is that to you?” (John 21:1, 20-22, 24) Do these words indicate that the apostle John would outlive the other apostles? Apparently so, for he serves Jehovah faithfully for almost another 70 years. However, there is more to Jesus’ statement.
15 The expression “until I come” reminds us of Jesus’ reference to “the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28) John remains until Jesus comes in that John is later given a prophetic vision of Jesus coming in Kingdom power. Near the end of John’s life, while in exile on the isle of Patmos, he receives the Revelation with all its amazing prophetic signs of events that are to occur during “the Lord’s day.” John is so deeply moved by these spectacular visions that when Jesus says: “Yes; I am coming quickly,” John exclaims: “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.”—Revelation 1:1, 10; 22:20.
16. Why is it important that we continue to strengthen our faith?
16 Honesthearted ones living in the first century accept Jesus as the Messiah and put faith in him. In view of the prevailing lack of faith around them, the work that they have to do, and the tests that lie ahead, those who become believers need to be strengthened. Jesus has given ample proof of his Messiahship and has provided enlightening prophetic visions for the encouragement of his loyal followers. Today, we are well along in “the Lord’s day.” Soon, Christ will destroy Satan’s entire wicked system of things and deliver God’s people. We too must strengthen our faith by taking full advantage of all of Jehovah’s provisions for our spiritual welfare.
Preserved Through Darkness and Tribulation
17, 18. What sharp contrast existed in the first century between Jesus’ followers and those who opposed God’s purpose, and how did things turn out for each group?
17 After Jesus’ death, the disciples courageously obey his command to bear witness to him “both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Despite waves of persecution, Jehovah blesses the fledgling Christian congregation with spiritual enlightenment and with many new disciples.—Acts 2:47; 4:1-31; 8:1-8.
18 On the other hand, the prospects of those who oppose the good news grow progressively gloomier. “The way of the wicked ones is like the gloom,” states Proverbs 4:19. “They have not known at what they keep stumbling.” “The gloom” intensifies in 66 C.E. when Roman forces besiege Jerusalem. After making a temporary withdrawal for no apparent reason, the Romans return in 70 C.E., this time razing the city. According to Jewish historian Josephus, over a million Jews perish. Faithful Christians, however, escape. Why? Because when the first siege is lifted, they obey Jesus’ command to flee.—Luke 21:20-22.
19, 20. (a) Why do God’s people have no reason to be fearful as the present system nears its end? (b) What remarkable insight did Jehovah give to his people in the decades leading up to 1914?
19 Our situation is similar. The upcoming great tribulation will spell the end of Satan’s entire wicked system. But God’s people need not fear, for Jesus promised: “Look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:20) To build up the faith of his early disciples and to prepare them for what lay ahead, Jesus gave them a foregleam of his heavenly glory as Messianic King. What about today? In 1914 that foregleam became a reality. And what a faith-strengthening reality it has been to God’s people! It holds promise of a wonderful future, and Jehovah’s servants have been granted progressive insight into that reality. In the midst of today’s darkening world, “the path of the righteous ones is like the bright light that is getting lighter and lighter until the day is firmly established.”—Proverbs 4:18.
20 Even before 1914, a small band of anointed Christians began to grasp important truths about the Lord’s return. For instance, they discerned that it would be invisible, as implied by the two angels who appeared in 33 C.E. to the disciples while Jesus was ascending to heaven. After a cloud caught Jesus up from the disciples’ vision, the angels said: “This Jesus who was received up from you into the sky will come thus in the same manner as you have beheld him going into the sky.”—Acts 1:9-11.
21. What will be discussed in the following article?
21 Jesus’ departure was observed only by his loyal followers. As with the transfiguration, there was no public display; the world in general was not even aware of what had occurred. The same would be true when Christ returned in Kingdom power. (John 14:19) Only his faithful anointed disciples would discern his royal presence. In the next article, we will see how that insight would have a profound effect on them, culminating in the gathering of millions who would become Jesus’ earthly subjects.—Revelation 7:9, 14.
Evidently, at Jesus’ baptism, only John heard God’s voice. The Jews whom Jesus is addressing “have neither heard [God’s] voice at any time nor seen his figure.”—John 5:37.
Do You Recall?
• When Jesus was accused of breaking the Sabbath and of blasphemy, what evidence did he give to show that he was the Messiah?
• How did Jesus’ early disciples benefit from the transfiguration?
• What did Jesus mean when he said that John would remain until he came?
• In 1914, what foregleam became a reality?
[Pictures on page 10]
Jesus pointed to his credentials as the Messiah
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The transfiguration vision was faith strengthening
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John was to remain until Jesus’ ‘coming’