Every Christian sect asserts that Jesus was the Messiah. Generally this claim is interpreted to mean that Jesus is the savior whose coming was foretold by the authors of the old testament.
In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border. It will be a sign and a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt; when they cry to the LORD because of oppressors he will send them a savior, and will defend and deliver them. And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians; and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and burnt offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them. And the LORD will smite Egypt, smiting and healing, and they will return to the LORD, and he will heed their supplications and heal them.
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.”Isaiah 19:19-20, Revised Standard Version
So was it God’s plan to save the people of Egypt, Assyria, and Israel? What about the people of China, or Japan, or Australia, or northern Europe, or the British Isles, or elsewhere in Africa, or the western hemisphere? There were people living in all of those places at the time that Isaiah was alive. Were they too to be saved?
Truly, thou art a God who hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior. All of them are put to shame and confounded, the makers of idols go in confusion together. But Israel is saved by the LORD with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity.Isaiah 45:15-17, Revised Standard Version
This passage appears to say that Israel is the real target of God’s salvation, and that this salvation is eternal.
“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’
“Therefore, behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when men shall no longer say, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the LORD lives who brought up and led the descendants of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.”Jeremiah 23:5-8, Revised Standard Version
Jeremiah’s savior is one who will save Judah and Israel specifically– no mention of the Egyptians or the Assyrians or of any other nations of the earth.
But according to Christians the Messiah was to be a savior not of Judah, or of Israel specifically, but of every human individual’s soul– a savior who would provide eternal life to the followers of God. Is that what the old testament authors envisioned?
The story of the garden of Eden tells the tale of Adam and Eve and of how they violated God’s first covenant– that they should not eat any of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. When God found out that they had eaten the fruit of the tree of knowledge he banished them from the garden of Eden. And the bible tells us explicitly why:
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever”– therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken.Genesis 3:22, Revised Standard Version
God did not tell Adam and Eve that they were not to eat the fruit of the tree of life; only that they should not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. So they were eating the fruit of the tree of life with God’s knowledge and permission while they lived in the garden of Eden. The moral of the story is that Adam and Eve blew the one chance that humanity had for an eternal life by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, getting thrown out of the garden of Eden, and thereby being denied the ability to eat the fruit of the tree of life.
And that is the perspective from which the entire old testament was written. The old testament authors did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment, eternal life, or paradise. Here, for example, is what Psalm 88 has to say about the matter:
I am a man who has no strength, like one forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom thou dost remember no more, for they are cut off from thy hand.Psalm 88:5, Revised Standard Version
If God has forgotten about the dead, then he can’t forgive their sins. If the dead have been cut off from God, if they are beyond his care, then he can’t resurrect them.
Chapter 2 of the book of Isaiah is one of the very few passages in the old testament that describes in detail what would happen at the end of time.
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.Isaiah 2:2 – 4, Revised Standard Version
This passage is important as much for what it says as for what it does not say. There is no mention in Isaiah’s description of:
- The return of the Messiah
- The resurrection of the dead
- The last judgment
- Eternal life
Isaiah does say that people from all over the world will travel to the mountain of God to learn the ways of God. That makes no sense in the context of the Christian fantasies of the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment. Those who are going to pass the last judgment would do so only if they already knew the ways of God. And those who are going to fail the judgment aren’t going to get a second chance. So there would be no reason for anyone to travel to the mountain of God to learn the ways of God.
Why would Isaiah fail to mention the aspects of the end of time that are most important to Christians? The simplest explanation is that it’s because neither he nor any of the other authors of the old testament believed in any of it.
Another key passage is chapter 14 of the book of Zechariah. In that chapter the author describes the events of the Day of God:
And this shall be the plague with which the LORD will smite all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh shall rot while they are still on their feet, their eyes shall rot in their sockets, and their tongues shall rot in their mouths.Zechariah 14:12, Revised Standard Version
The Day of God as described by Zechariah was clearly intended to effect the salvation of Jerusalem. That is very different from the last judgment as described by Christians. As in Isaiah Chapter 2 there is no mention in Zechariah Chapter 14 of any of the following:
- The return of the Messiah
- The resurrection of the dead
- The last judgment
- Eternal life
What is most interesting about the Day of God is what Zechariah said would happen afterward:
Then every one that survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, there will be no rain upon them. And if the family of Egypt do not go up and present themselves, then upon them shall come the plague with which the LORD afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the feast of booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the feast of booths.Zechariah 14:16, Revised Standard Version
So Zechariah says that the survivors of the battle of the Day of God would be expected to go up to Jerusalem every year thereafter to observe the feast of booths. The feast of booths, also known as the festival of tabernacles, is a Jewish religious observance, not a Christian ceremony. It is described in Leviticus 23:33 and again in Numbers 29:12. So Zechariah believed that after the Day of God everyone in the world would be expected to observe Jewish religious practices. Furthermore the survivors are described as people who might decide NOT to go up to Jerusalem. So Zechariah isn’t describing the kind of people to whom Jesus would likely grant eternal life. He’s describing normal, living, breathing people. And that’s because the Day of God that Zechariah described has nothing to do with the Christian fantasy of the resurrection of the dead and the last judgment.
These various passages from the old testament show that the old testament authors did not believe in any of the ideas about the afterlife that have been promulgated by Christians. Those ideas were foreign to the old testament authors.
A Christian apologist might argue that the new testament brought with it a new covenant– that is a new set of terms and conditions for humanity. But if that were true, then God threw Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden, depriving they and their descendants of eternal life, only to reverse himself 4,000 years later by changing the rules of human life. In this new covenant the followers of the teachings of Jesus would be saved and would be granted eternal life.
Why didn’t God simply state the new rules to Adam and Eve at the moment he threw them out of the garden of Eden? He could have said at that time how He expected human beings to behave, what laws and purposes they should follow, and what their eventual reward would be. Instead He threw Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden without giving them any moral guidelines, or any promise of a future reward in the afterlife. If God really wants humans to follow this new covenant, why did it take Him 4,000 years to express it? The simplest explanation is that the new covenant was not the product of divine vision, but was rather the invention of the new testament authors.
Of course there were plenty of antecedents. There was the legend of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead, whose cult was followed throughout ancient Egypt for at least 2500 years prior to the appearance of Jesus. Followers of the Osiris cult believed that the souls of the dead would be resurrected and that Osiris would lead a council of gods who would pass judgment on their lives. Each soul was weighed against the feather of Ma’at, the goddess of truth, justice, and harmony. Those whose souls were lighter than her feather would be granted eternal life.
And there were the Eleusinian Mysteries. Those were Greek practices and beliefs that were followed throughout ancient Greece for hundreds of years before the time of Jesus. The Mysteries taught that a person’s soul would be judged after death, and that the disposition of the soul would depend on one’s behavior in life.
The point is that there were plenty of narratives of eternal life available in the ancient world that the new testament authors could have plagiarized and altered as desired.
But that is not the only point of difference between the old and new testament authors. There was an immense difference between the moralities of the two groups of authors. Here, for example, is a new testament passage in which Jesus describes how many times his followers are expected to forgive the sins of others:
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”Matthew 18:21 – 22, Revised Standard Version
So Jesus expected his followers to forgive sins seventy times seven times– or 490 times each. Why 490? Why not 500 times, or 1000? I think the answer is that the number 490 was never intended to be a real number. Rather, it represents a number that is too big for anyone to ever keep track of. That is, the number 490 represents the first century AD concept of “infinity”.
So Jesus expected his followers to forgive the sins of others infinitely many times. But which sins are his followers expected to forgive? The answer is provided in this passage:
“…Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”Matthew 12:31 – 32, Revised Standard Version
In other words Jesus expected his followers to forgive every sin except the sin of blasphemy against the holy spirit. Murder, rape, incest, sodomy, assault, battery, robbery, fraud, slander, libel…. All of these sins are to be forgiven, and are to be forgiven infinitely many times.
That is decidedly not a view shared by the old testament authors. Generally they were not a very forgiving bunch. Sins were to be punished in accordance with a very strict code.
“If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.”Leviticus 20:10, Revised Standard Version
That contrasts starkly with the story of an adulteress who was to be stoned to death in John 8 in which Jesus said the following:
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”John 8:7, Revised Standard Version
As for blasphemy, it was absolutely not to be forgiven according to the book of Leviticus:
And the LORD said to Moses, “Bring out of the camp him who cursed; and let all who heard him lay their hands upon his head, and let all the congregation stone him. And say to the people of Israel, Whoever curses his God shall bear his sin. He who blasphemes the name of the LORD shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him; the sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.”Leviticus 24:13 – 16, Revised Standard Version
The old testament authors did in fact have a process for the forgiveness of sins. It was known as a “sin offering”. There were several different versions of it that depended on one’s station in society. Here, for example, is the description of a sin offering for members of the elite class:
And the LORD said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, if any one sins unwittingly in any of the things which the LORD has commanded not to be done, and does any one of them, if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then let him offer for the sin which he has committed a young bull without blemish to the LORD for a sin offering. He shall bring the bull to the door of the tent of meeting before the LORD, and lay his hand on the head of the bull, and kill the bull before the LORD. And the anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it to the tent of meeting; and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle part of the blood seven times before the LORD in front of the veil of the sanctuary. And the priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense before the LORD which is in the tent of meeting, and the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering which is at the door of the tent of meeting. And all the fat of the bull of the sin offering he shall take from it, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver which he shall take away with the kidneys (just as these are taken from the ox of the sacrifice of the peace offerings), and the priest shall burn them upon the altar of burnt offering. But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, with its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung, the whole bull he shall carry forth outside the camp to a clean place, where the ashes are poured out, and shall burn it on a fire of wood; where the ashes are poured out it shall be burned.”Leviticus 4:1 – 12, Revised Standard Version
No modern Christian church practices this form of forgiveness, and it really bears no resemblance to the type of forgiveness that Jesus described. Why, then, would the old testament authors have predicted the coming of someone whose teachings were so contrary to their own?
The old testament authors didn’t believe anything Jesus taught. They did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, or the last judgment, or eternal life, or paradise. They didn’t believe in anything Jesus said about the forgiveness of sins– and that was his single most important moral teaching. They didn’t believe in his morality. And they were expecting someone who would preserve Jewish religious practices and observances– not someone like Jesus and his followers who pushed all of the old Jewish observances aside and created two completely new sacraments (i.e. baptism and communion).
So was Jesus the savior whose coming was predicted by the old testament authors? No. The old testament authors would not have envisioned the coming of someone whose beliefs about the afterlife were completely different from their own, whose ideas about the forgiveness of sins were contrary to theirs, and whose followers would eventually disparage and deprecate the religious practices of the Israelites.
Copyright (c) 2019 David S. Moore