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Light from the Sidra

Pesach

I have an Orthodox Jewish friend who frequently sends me articles copied and pasted from a variety of websites that draw supposed parallels between Jesus and mythical figures such as Mithras, Osiris, Krishna and so on. He does this in an effort to demonstrate that Christianity is a thoroughly pagan, non-Jewish religion and is therefore unworthy of his consideration.

Between the years 1890 to 1940, there were a number of scholars who maintained that Jesus was a mythical composite borrowed from the pagan mystery religions that flourished in the ancient world and that Jesus was just one more dying and rising saviour figure of which, it was believed, there were hundreds. That school of thought, represented by figures such as Sir James Fraser in his huge work The Golden Bough, went out of fashion in the mid twentieth century. It could not survive the weight of evidence against it.

These outdated, outmoded ideas are now being resuscitated by non-experts and can be found alive and well on numerous amateur websites and in sensationalist books written by non-specialists.

The unwary who read such books and visit the sites will are impressed by what appears to be cutting-edge research. If they would only take the time to read just one of the Gospels it would be readily apparent that Jesus is no myth. From the very first page, it is clear that the New Testament is a thoroughly Jewish document. The most up-to-date scholarship is demonstrating very powerfully that the major motif in the thinking of the writers of the New Testament is the Jewish Passover. Jesus was not a pagan god-man but a new Moses who through his death brought about the greater exodus foretold in the ancient Hebrew prophets.

The Gospel According to Matthew, for example, sets out clear parallels between Moses and Jesus; between the Passover and the death of Jesus as the Messiah. Just as the Pharaoh at the time of Moses was intent on killing Jewish boys, so was Herod when Jesus was born. Just as the child Moses was saved from death, so was the infant Jesus. Just as God took the people of Israel as his “firstborn son” and called his son out of Egypt, so Jesus came as the Son of God and was called from Egypt where his parents had taken him to escape the murderous king of Judea. Israel passed though the Jordan after being tested in the wilderness for forty years; Jesus was tested in the wilderness for forty days after passing through the Jordan. Moses received the Torah on a mountain and delivered it to Israel; Jesus delivered his Torah to his disciples, in a discourse we know as the Sermon on the Mount.

When John the Baptist refers to Jesus as “the Lamb of God”, in The Gospel According to John, he has in mind the Passover lamb whose blood saved the people of Israel from destruction on the night the angel of death passed through the land.

It is striking to see how the cross features prominently in the Exodus narrative. Although we need to look closely for the cross at first, when we do see it we wonder how we could have missed it. The Blood of the Passover lamb was struck on the doorposts and the lintel of the Israelite houses in Egypt. The action of striking not only the doorposts but also the lintel involves making a cross-shaped movement. Coincidence?

The tribes of Israel camped around the tabernacle in the form of a cross with Judah, Issachar and Zebulon to the east, Reuben, Simeon and Gad to the south, Benjamin, Manasseh and Ephraim to the west and Naphtali, Asher and Dan to the north. No tribes camped to the north east or to the south west, for example; the tribes camped to the north, south, east and west. An aerial shot of the camp of Israel would have showed a huge cross formation in the Sinai desert. Coincidence?

Likewise, the furniture in the tabernacle was laid out in the form of a cross. The bronze altar and the bronze laver in the courtyard of the tabernacle pointed the way into the tabernacle proper. Inside the mishkan, to one side stood the seven-branched Menorah and to the other the Table of the Bread of the Presence. In front of the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place stood the gold Altar of Incense, and beyond the veil the Ark of the Covenant and the throne of God. The way into God’s presence in the tabernacle was cross-shaped.

The Passover redemption became the template for God’s future redemption of his people and it is surely no coincidence that the “cross” and sacrificial blood featured so significantly and frequently in the Exodus. God’s people have always been redeemed by the cross, they have always approached God by way of the cross and they have always lived, moved and had their being in the cross.


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