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The Jewish religionists were masters in the outside knowledge of the Scriptures, yet, with all their reading of the Old Testament, they did not understand the prophecies. Not only were prophecies abundantly fulfilled before their eyes, but they themselves helped to fulfill them and yet were too spiritually blind to recognize their fulfillment. Peter declared: "Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days" (Acts 3:24). Paul proclaimed: "And when they [the Jews] had fulfilled all that was written of Him . .. the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that He hath raised up Jesus again" (Acts 13:27-33).

When the Old Testament prophecies, which the Jews knew so well, being "read every Sabbath," were fulfilled so accurately, how could they be so blind to their fulfillment? - especially when they ingloriously helped to fulfill them? In Acts 13:27 we are told the reason: "For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew Him not, nor yet the voices of the prophets which are read every Sabbath day, they have fulfilled them in condemning Him." Because they knew not Jesus - because they were not right with God Who had sent Jesus - they misread the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of His kingdom. Had they accepted Jesus as their Lord, He would have given them freedom from sin, and with power to live a personal life of victory would have come spiritual discernment to see the moral purpose of prophecy.

One writer says:

"The Jewish leaders had studied the teachings of the prophets concerning the kingdom of the Messiah; but they had done this, not with a sincere desire to know the truth, but with the purpose of finding evidence to sustain their ambitious hopes." ("The Desire of Ages," p.212.)

If there had been harmony in the heart with God's purpose there would have been clarity in understanding that purpose.

Correct interpretations of prophecies relating to present and future events, when examined, will be found to harmonize with present Christian experience. The more we know of God's character and the more we become like Him, the more we are enabled experimentally to understand the Scriptures. "That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened" (Ephes. 1:17, 18). "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 3:18). The more we grow in grace the greater is our knowledge of our Saviour - practical, experimental knowledge. "The soul that turns to God for its help, its support, its power, by daily, earnest prayer, will have noble aspirations, clear perceptions of truth and duty." ("The Mount of Blessing," p.127.)

"Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). Our Lord quoted from Deut. 8:3, where this statement is given as the moral reason why God gave the manna to the children of Israel. He wanted them to apply it personally in connection with the Saviour. Had the Jews in the days of our Lord experienced in their hearts the daily renewal of manna from Heaven - were they living by every word of God - they would have accepted gladly the Saviour's spiritual application of the giving of the manna to Himself. (See John 6:31-66. "Many therefore of His disciples, when they had heard this, said: This is an hard saying; who can hear it. . . From that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with him.") Their lives were not in harmony with the Scriptures, therefore they did not understand them.

"The Jews Studied the Prophecies, But Without Spiritual Insight"

As the spiritual condition of a church declines, more attention is paid to the externals of religion and less to the internals -a lifeless husk instead of the living grain. Literal things which have been instituted because of their spiritual significance lose their spiritual meaning, and the service of the church degenerates into formalism: the letter is emphasized as the spirit wanes. Thus it was in the experiences of ancient Israel, and it has been repeated in the experience of the Christian church. "The Jews lost the spiritual life from their ceremonies, and clung to the dead forms" ("The Desire of Ages," p.29.)

As an example of the Jews' loss of spiritual vision, notice the following extract:- "To Moses God had said concerning His commandments, 'Thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes' (Deut. 6:8). These words have a deep meaning. As the Word of God is meditated upon and practiced, the whole man will be ennobled. In righteous and merciful dealing, the hands will reveal, as a signet, the principles of God's law. . . . The eyes, directed toward a noble purpose, will be clear and true. . . . But by the Jews of Christ's day all this was undiscerned. The command given to Moses was construed into a direction that the precepts of Scripture should be worn upon the person. They were accordingly written upon strips of parchment, and bound in a conspicuous manner about the head or the wrists" (ibid. 612).

Their proud disposition to flaunt an appearance of righteousness in the eyes of their fellow men caused them to interpret the Scriptures accordingly. Had they been meek and lowly in heart, they would have discerned the spiritual import of Deut. 6:8.

Isaiah had prophesied: "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it" (Isa. 40:5). But before the visible glory of God would be manifested at the second advent, the spiritual glory of God would be revealed in the character and the life of the Lord Jesus. Had the Jews been enjoying blessed fellowship with God and understood His character they would have discerned the glory of God in the life of Jesus and would have seen that the prophet spoke of the revelation of spiritual glory before the literal glory of God should be revealed.

The Jews' need of spiritual vision was also illustrated by their blindness to the meaning of the prophecy in Hag. 2:7-9. Commenting upon this prophecy, the author of "The Great Controversy Between Christ and Satan," pp.23, 24, says :-

"This temple [Solomon's) was the most magnificent building which the world ever saw. Yet the Lord had declared . . . 'The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former . . . I will fill this house with glory.' . . . But the second temple had not equaled the first in magnificence; nor was it hallowed by those visible tokens of the divine presence which pertained to the first temple. There was no manifestation of supernatural power to mark its dedication. . . . For centuries the Jews had vainly endeavored to show wherein the promise of God given by Haggai had been fulfilled; yet pride and unbelief blinded their minds to the true meaning of the prophet's words. The second temple was not honored with the cloud of Jehovah's glory, but with the living presence of One in Whom dwelt the fullness of the Godhead bodily. . . . In the presence of Christ, and in this only, did the second temple exceed the first in glory."

Had the Jews been right with God they would have recognized the grandeur and glory of God shining out in the character of Christ; they would have thus seen the fulfillment of the prophecy of Haggai. When Jesus said: "I say unto you, That in this place is One greater than the temple" (Matt. 12:6), they would have recognized the presence of the God Whom alone they thought greater than the temple. (See 2 Chron. 6:18.) They would have seen the fulfillment of the prophecy of Mal. 3:1:"The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple."

Jesus also said: "The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here" (Matt. 12:42). Had the Jews read the Old Testament history aright they would have seen that the history of notable persons such as Solomon was recorded in Scripture to typify the coming of someone greater; even the long-promised Messiah, and when Jesus made these statements they would have seen readily the glorious privilege which was theirs.

The Old Testament contains many predictions concerning the Messiah's kingdom.

"At the time . . . when our Lord appeared, there was a general expectation among the Jews of the coming of the Messiah, and His reign was called 'the world to come,' 'the heavenly Jerusalem,' 'the kingdom of heaven,' or 'of God.' To enter the kingdom was to become His disciple. The Jews had very erroneous conceptions of its nature; and it was necessary that our Lord should correct them. This He does in the teachings of Himself, and of His disciples. The nature of the kingdom of God must be learned, therefore, from the New Testament." ("Angus's Bible Handbook," p.203.)

When the Messiah came "unto His own," "His own received Him not" (John 1:11). The Jews rejected Christ because His interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies of the expected kingdom was not what they wanted. Their hearts were not prepared for the kind of kingdom He preached. Says the writer already quoted: -

"Some of the Pharisees had come to Jesus demanding 'when the kingdom of God should come.' More than three years had passed since John the Baptist gave the message, that like a trumpet call had sounded through the land, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' And as yet these Pharisees saw no indication of the establishment of the kingdom. Many of those who rejected John, and at every step had opposed Jesus, were insinuating that His mission had failed. Jesus answered: 'The kingdom of God cometh not with outward show; neither shall they say, Lo here! or, Lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.' The kingdom of God begins in the heart. Look not here or there for manifestations of earthly power to mark its coming. . . . Because it is not attended by worldly pomp, you are in danger of failing to discern the glory of My mission. ("The Desire of Ages," p. 506.)

The Jews looked forward to the time when, with the advent of the Messiah, all the predictions regarding the exaltation of Israel in His literal kingdom would have their grand fulfillment. The two-fold nature of the Messiah's kingdom their unspiritual natures could not grasp.

Not wishing to see this two-fold nature prophesied by the seers of Israel, they failed to heed the truth that the first phase of the kingdom had to do with humiliation and the battle against evil within. Christ had to suffer before He entered into glory. (Luke 24:25, 26, 46; 1 Pet. 1:11.) Similarly, the "Israel" associated with Him would likewise first suffer before they reigned in glory with Him. (2 Tim. 2:12; 1 Pet. 4:13.)

The proud human heart would like to share in the glory, but not in the humiliation and the suffering, which are essential for entrance into the kingdom. (Acts 14:22.) The first phase of the Messiah's kingdom is the kingdom of grace, during which time and opportunity are afforded for a heart preparation for the glory to follow.

"Life" is a synonym for "the kingdom of God" (Mark 9:45, 47; Matt. 18:9); in the kingdom of grace Jesus gives spiritual life. In the kingdom of glory He gives eternal life. Christ, by His Spirit, now reigns in every heart on earth subject to Him. (Col. 1:13,26,27; 3:4; 1 John 3:14; 5:11-13; John 3:3, 7; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 12:23, margin; Ephes. 2:6; etc.) This was the kingdom which was "at hand." (Matt. 3:2; 4:17, etc.) This was the burden of Paul's sermons. (See Acts 20:25; 28:23, 31.) Prophecies concerning the Messiah's kingdom are now being fulfilled spiritually, but one needs to have that experimental knowledge of the indwelling Spirit of Christ in order to fully appreciate their present-day fulfillment.

Failing to read the prophecies in the light of Christ's work of salvation caused the Jews to misunderstand the prophecies they knew so well. Unless our interpretations of prophecies reveal Christ we, too, will fail to grasp their true meaning. The Jews were led to reject Christ because of their misinterpretation of the prophecies concerning Israel: they forgot or overlooked the moral purpose of prophecy - personal salvation from sin. "Thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). Spiritual pride, selfishness and sin in their hearts beclouded their spiritual discernment.

"While the Jews desired the advent of the Messiah, they had no true conception of His mission. They did not seek the redemption from sin, but deliverance from the Romans. They had studied the prophecies, but without spiritual insight. Pride obscured their vision. They interpreted prophecy in accordance with their selfish desires." ("The Desire of Ages," p.30.)

The Jews Were Rigid Literalists

The Jews were rigid literalists in the interpretation of the Scriptures. When Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Ye must be born again," Nicodemus affected to understand His words literally, as if Jesus referred to a physical birth. Jesus, of course, referred to a spiritual birth. (See John 3.) When Jesus said: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews: Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt Thou rear it up in three days? But He spake of the temple of His body." (John 2:19-21.) On the authority of the prophecy of Mal. 3:1 and 4:5 the Jews were expecting Elijah literally to return to the earth before the coming of the Messiah. This gave rise to the question: How could Jesus be the Messiah since Elijah had not yet appeared in person (Matt. 17:10; John 1:21)? Jesus answered the objection raised by the Pharisees by declaring that Malachi's prophecy regarding the coming of Elijah was fulfilled in the ministry of John the Baptist, that Elijah was a type of the Forerunner. (See Matt. 17:11-13.) When Jesus said: "He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life," He was speaking of a spiritual relationship in terms of an Old Testament type. Jesus' Jewish hearers, being literalists, misunderstood His words. The author of "The Desire of Ages," pp. 389-391, gives the following comment upon this incident in the Saviour's earthly ministry :-

"The same truth that was symbolized in the paschal service was taught in the words of Christ. But it was still undiscerned. Now the rabbis exclaimed angrily, 'How can this man give us His flesh to eat?' They affected to understand His words in the same literal sense as did Nicodemus when he asked, 'How can a man be born when he is old?' . . . By misconstruing His words, they hoped to prejudice the people against Him. Christ did not soften down His symbolical representation. . . . The unbelieving Jews refused to see any except the most literal meaning in the Saviour's words. . . . They [His followers who rejected His testing, spiritual truths] cared not for the mysterious spiritual kingdom of which He spoke."

The Jews were expositors of prophecy "but without spiritual insight"; they did not study the prophecies in the light of God's moral purpose; they did not study the prophecies so that by them they would be strengthened to overcome sin in the heart. And yet it was for this purpose that they were given.

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