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Heralds of the New Testament


The fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and especially the destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity, were most terrible blows and upheavals on an unprecedented scale for the Hebrew people. This was God's judgment for the betrayal of their covenant with Him and for their profound moral corruption. A night of utter darkness and, it seemed, hopelessness had begun for the people. Then there appeared a whole galaxy of persons to console them in their sufferings. Reproof and consolation; these are the two subjects of their proclamations and of their prophetic books, which comprise the last grouping of the books of the Old Testament.

The prophets' reproofs precede the last blows that sealed the fate of the Hebrew people, when there were still some remnants of prosperity, and the people's conscience was still slumbering. These reproofs are incomparable in their force, in their unsparing veracity.

Woe, O sinful nation, a people full of sins, an evil seed, lawless children... Why should ye be smitten any more, transgressing more and more? The whole head is pained, and the whole heart is sad. From the feet to the head there is no soundness in them; a wound, a bruise, a festering ulcer. they have not been cleansed, nor bandaged, nor mollified with ointment... Though ye bring fine flour, it is vain; incense is an abomination to me; I cannot bear your new moons, and your sabbaths, and the festival assemblies... Wash ye, be clean, remove your iniquities from your souls before mine eyes, cease from your iniquities, learn to do good, diligently seek judgment, deliver him that is suffering wrong, plead for the orphan, and obtain justice for the widow. And come, let us reason together, saith the Lord, and though your sins be as purple, I will make them white as snow; and though they be as scarlet, I will make them white as wool, proclaimed the Prophet Isaiah (Is. 1:4-6; 13; 18).

The Prophet Jeremiah castigates, and he laments the people's fall with even stronger words. Trust not in yourselves, in lying words, for they shall not Profit you at all, when ye say, The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord... But whereas ye have trusted in lying words, whereby ye shall not be profited; and ye murder, and commit adultery, and steal, and swear falsely, and burn incense to Baal, and are gone after strange gods whom ye know not, so that it is evil with you. Yet have ye come, and stood before Me in the house whereon My name is called, and ye have said, We have refrained from doing all these abominations. Is My house, there whereon My name is called, a den of thieves in your eyes? (Jer. 7:4; 8-11).

Who will give water to my head, and a fountain of tears to my eyes? then would I weep for this, my people, day and night, even for the wounded of the daughter of my people. Who would give me a most distant lodge in the wilderness, that I might leave my people and depart from them? for they all commit adultery, an assembly of treacherous men... Every one will mock his friend; they will not speak truth; their tongue hath learned to speak falsehoods; they have committed iniquity and they have not ceased, so as to return... Shall I not visit them for these things, saith the Lord?... And I will remove the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and make it a dwelling place of dragons, and I will utterly lay waste the cities of Judah, so that they shall not be inhabited. Who is the wise man, that he may understand this?... Thus saith the Lord, Be ye prudent and call ye the mourning women, and let them come... and let them take up a lamentation for you, and let your eye pour down tears, and your eyelids drops of water! (Jer. 9:1-18).

And when the disasters befell them and unheard-of woes were heaped upon them, the Babylonian captivity came and there was no longer any consolation and then those same prophets became the people's only support.

Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith God. Speak, ye priests, of the heart of Jerusalem; comfort her, for her humiliation is accomplished, her sin is put away; for she hath received at the Lord's hand double the amount of her sins... O thou that bringest glad tidings to Zion, go up on the high mountains; lift up thy voice with strength, thou that bringest glad tidings to Jerusalem. Lift it up, fear not; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold the Lord. The Lord is coming with strength, and His arm is with power. Behold, His reward is with Him, and the work of each man is before Him. He shall tend His flock as a shepherd, and He shall gather the lambs with His arm and hold them in His bosom, and shall soothe them that are with young (Is. 40:1-2, 9-11).

Thus the Prophet Isaiah comforts, becoming in those days of lamentation a prophet of God's future deliverance and good will.

One cries to me out of Seir. Guard ye the bulwarks. I watch in the morning and the night. If you wouldst inquire, inquire and dwell by me. (Is. 21:11-12)

The night will pass, God's anger will pass. Be glad, thou thirsty desert; let the wilderness exult, and flower as the lily. And the desert places of Jordan shall blossom and rejoice... Be strong ye hands and palsied knees. Comfort one another, ye faint-hearted, be strong and fear not; behold, our God rendereth judgment, and He will render it; He will come and save us. Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall hear. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the stammerers shall speak plainly; for water hath burst forth in the desert, and a channel of water in a thirsty land... But the redeemed and gathered on the Lord's behalf shall walk in it, and shall return, and come to Zion with joy, and everlasting joy shall be over their head; for on their head shall be praise and exultation, and joy shall take possession of them; pain and sorrow, and sighing have fled away (Is. 35:1-6; 10).

What is it that especially inspires the prophets with bright hopes in these distant visions of the future? Is it the political might of their people, her victories and triumphs which they see before them? Or is it a vision of plenty, riches and abundance in the future which is presented to them? No, it is not these objects of material prosperity or national pride that attract their attention. Could these holy men, who had resigned themselves to a life of suffering, and sometimes even to a martyr's death (the Prophet Isaiah was sawn in two with a wooden saw), really inspire their people with these earthly desires alone? They were contemplating another revelation of God: an unprecedented spiritual rebirth, times of justice and truth, meekness and peace, when the whole world is filled with the knowledge of the Lord (Is. 11:9). They proclaimed the coming of the New Testament.

But this is the covenant that I shall make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, Giving, I will give My laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts; and I will be to them a God and they shall be to Me a people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, for I will be merciful to their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more (Jer. 31: 33-34).Thus prophesies Jeremiah.

The same is proclaimed by Ezekiel. And I will give you a new heart, and will put a new spirit in you; and I will take away the heart of stone out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in you, and will cause you to walk in Mine ordinances and to keep My judgments, and do them (Ezek. 36:26-27; and 11:19-20).

The prophets speak much about the requital of the other nations, the enemies of Israel, the pagan peoples, who were only the instruments of God's anger and His chastisement of Israel. They will receive their cup of wrath. But the future blessing of Israel will be a light for them also. And in that day, there shall be a root of Jesse, and He that shall arise to rule over the nations; in Him shall the nations hope, and His rest shall be a reward, predicts Isaiah (Is. 11: 10).

The fulfillment of these hopes is linked with the mystical promise of granting Israel an eternal king. My servant David shall be a prince in the midst of them; for there shall be one shepherd of them all, for they shall walk in Mine ordinances... And David My servant shall be their prince for ever. And I will make with them a covenant of peace, we read in Ezekiel (Ezek. 37:24-26).

In consoling their contemporaries, the prophets direct the attention of all towards their future King. They present His image before them in these colors: in the light of meekness, gentleness, humility, righteousness. Jacob is My servant, I will help him: Israel is my chosen, My soul hath accepted him; I have put My Spirit upon him; he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not cry, nor lift up his voice, nor shall his voice be heard without. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench; but he shall bring forth judgment to truth (Is. 42:1-3).

In such and similar words, the prophets depict the coming of the Saviour of the world. Before us, scattered throughout various passages of the prophets' writings, but abundant when taken all together, is a depiction of the future events of the Gospel and its portrayal of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Here, in Isaiah, is a reference to Galilee, the place where the Saviour first dwelt on earth and appeared to people: Do this first, do it quickly, O land of Zebulon, land of Naphtali, and the rest inhabiting the seacoast, and the land beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations. O people walking in darkness, behold a great light. ye that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, a light will shine upon you... For unto us a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given, Whose government is upon His shoulder. And His name is called the angel of great Counsel, Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty One, the Potentate, the Prince of Peace, the Father of the age to come (Is. 9:1-2, 6).

Here is a reference to the Lord's glorification of Jerusalem: Shine, shine, O Jerusalem, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. Behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and there shall be thick darkness upon the nations, but the Lord shall appear unto thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And kings shall walk in thy light, and nations in the brightness (Is. 60:1-3).

Here is the prophecy about Christ by this same prophet, which Christ Himself used in the synagogue of Nazareth to begin His earthly preaching: The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me, He hath sent Me to preach good tidings to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to proclaim deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to declare the acceptable year of the Lord (Is. 61:1-2).

Does the prophet foresee that the Saviour will not be recognized or accepted by the leaders of the Jewish people, or by those people that follow them? Yes, he makes an oblique reference to this in the great depiction of Christ's sufferings which he gives in Chapter 53 of his book, which is one of the greatest prophecies, if not the greatest of them all:

O Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed? We brought a report of a Child before him; He is as a root in a thirsty land, He hath no form nor comeliness, and we saw Him, but He had no form nor beauty. But His form was ignoble, and forsaken by all men; He was a man of suffering, and acquainted with the bearing of sickness, for His face is turned away from us; He was dishonored and not esteemed. He beareth our sins and is pained for us: yet we accounted Him to be in trouble, and in suffering, and in affliction. But He was wounded on account of our sins, and was bruised because of our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and by His bruises we were healed. All we as sheep have gone astray; every one hath gone astray in his way; and the Lord gave Him up for our sins. And He, because of His affliction openeth not His mouth. He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth. In His humiliation, His judgment was taken away, who shall declare His generation? for His life is taken away from the earth, because of the iniquities of My people He was led to death. And I will give the wicked for His burial, and the rich for His death; for He did no iniquity, neither is there guile in His mouth (Is. 53:1-9).

The Gospel narrative testifies that the Jewish people did not recognize the time of its visitation. However, we cannot say that the prophecies of consolation were not fulfilled. For no one can take away from the Jewish people the boast that from their race came the Most-holy Virgin Mary, that Jesus Christ was of the seed of David, that Christ's Apostles were of the same people, and that Jerusalem has become for all time the place of the glory of the Risen Christ. From Jerusalem, the preaching of the Gospel went forth into the whole world, and of her the Church sings: "Rejoice, holy Zion, thou mother of the churches, and dwelling place of God: for thou wast first to receive remission of sins through the Resurrection" (Octoechos, Tone 8, Sun. Sticheron on "Lord, I have cried").

A full explanation of the fact that it was principally people from the pagan nations who entered the Church of Christ, and that the majority of the Jews remained in unbelief, is given to us in the New Testament by the Apostle Paul. In his writings, we find an exhaustive interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies concerning this. The Apostle writes:

"What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endureth with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom He hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the nations? As He saith also in Hosea, I will call them My people, which were not My people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, ye are not My people, there shall they be called the people of the living God. Isaiah also crieth concerning Israel: Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved... What shall we say then? That the nations which have followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone; as it is written, Behold, I lay in Zion a stumblingstone and rock of offense, and whosoever believeth in Him shall not be ashamed...

But I say, continues the Apostle in the next chapter, did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation will anger you. But Isaiah is very bold, and saith: I was found by them that sought Me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked after Me. But to Israel He saith: All day long I have stretched forth My hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people" (Rom. 9:22-27; 30-33; 10:18-21).

This would seem to be too harsh a fate and too strict a sentence for the chosen people of old. But the Apostle Paul himself becomes a comforter of his people, saying, "For I wish not, brethren, that ye be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye be wise in your own conceits; that hardness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the nations be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved, as it is written: There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob... For God hath enclosed them all in disobedience, that He might have mercy upon all. O the depths of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!" (Rom. 11:25-26; 32-33).

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