For our Christmas studies this year, we have taken the subjects of ‘Christ the Lamb and ‘Christ the King’.
These two aspects of Christ’s mission and purpose are beautifully given to us in the Christmas naritive, with Luke’s Gospel focussing on the Lamb and Matthew focussing on the King.
Sadly, the message of Christmas has been obfuscated by tradition, robbing people of these wonderful truths.
Christ the Lamb
Our study begins in the book of Genesis where God institutes the first blood sacrifice as a covering (atonement) for sin. (Gen 3:21). Abel obediently continues this pattern as he offers to God a lamb as atonement for sin – Cain infamously offers the work of his own hands (this is the basis of all religion: man’s attempt to get right with God through his own efforts).
We then see a dramatic ‘dress rehearsal’ in Genesis 22 with Abraham and Isaac, where on top of Mt Moriah (later to be known as Calvary), God intervenes and promises that He will actualy “provide Himself” as the Lamb!
Jesus came as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world, and was specifically born in Bethlehem. Harold Smith coments:
- When you said Bethlehem, you said “sacrificial lambs”. The hills around Bethlehem were home to the thousands of lambs used in ritual worship in the Temple”.
- “Everyone in Israel recognised Bethlehem as being synonymous with sacrificial lambs”.
- “Luke’s original audience would have immediately picked up on the religious significance of the Bethlehem shepherds watching their flocks by night”
- “Aware of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the Jewish Temple worship of the day, they would have known that when you said Bethlehem, you said “sacrificial lambs”. The hills around Bethlehem were home to the thousands of lambs used in ritual worship in the Temple”.
The fact that Bethlehem was the town is well known from Micah’s prophecy in Micah 5:2. But Micah also give us the exact location (Micah 4:8); not in a stable or cattle shed as tradition has erroneously taught, but in a ‘lambing tower’ on the outskirts of Bethlehem. There never was a ‘hotel Bethlehem’ or Inn keeper! The word translated ‘inn’ is properly ‘guest-chamber’ and it is more likely this was an annex built onto the family home. But why wouldn’t the family welcome Mary and Joseph in? Why was ‘no place found for them’?
Firstly, there genuinely might not have been enough room with the rest of the family there, most of whom would probably live closer than Nazareth. Secondly it may have been more to do with the laws of ceremonial purity Lev 12 / 15:19-30. If Mary had given birth in the house it would have defiled the house and everyone in it, and as it was almost certainly the Feast of Trumpets, which the Torah commanded should be kept; if those in the house had been defield they would not have been able to enjoy this celebration. Thirdly, the family would have wanted to avoid the scandal of welcoming Joseph and his pregnant girlfriend into their home!
So Joseph was forced to find alternative accomadation, and it just so happened that they had walked right past Migdal Edar on the way into Bethlehem, with its warm and clean birthing rooms for sacrificial lambs! Rabbi Short states:
- “This Migdal Eder was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks that pastured on the barren sheep ground beyond Bethlehem… but it lay close to the town on the road to Jerusalem”.
During lambing season the sheep were brought to the tower from the fields, as the lower level functioned as the birthing room for sacrificial lambs. Being themselves under special rabbinical care, these Levitical shepherds would strictly maintain a ceremonially clean birthing place.
- Once birthed, the shepherds would routinely place the lambs in the hewn depression of a limestone rock known as “the manger”
- They would “wrap the new-born lambs in swaddling clothes,” preventing them from thrashing about and harming themselves “until they had calmed down” so they could be inspected for the quality of being “without spot or blemish” –Jewish oral tradition & Alfred Edersheim, the Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.
Prominent Jewish writers concluded in the Midrash (an early Jewish commentary on the O.T.) that:
- …of all the places in Israel, it would be the “Migdal Eder”, The tower of the flock in Bethlehem, where the arrival of the Messiah would be declared first!
In thier book ‘Why a Manger’ Bodie and Brock Thoene comment:
- Migdal Eder, the Tower of the Flock, was the place where lambs destined for the Temple were born and raised. Every firstborn male lamb from the area around Bethlehem was considered holy, set aside for sacrifice in Jerusalem. Generations of hereditary shepherds tended the sacred flocks. –
The Levitical shepherds were chosen by God to be the first to see this new born baby precisely because it was their job to inspect the sacrificial lambs that would later be offered in Jerusalem.
Christ the King
But as we now come to consider ‘Christ the King’ we jump forward around two years to the time the wise men (Magi) from the east arrived.
As with the Lamb, the story of Israel’s King begins back in the book of Genesis and is unfolded throughout the Old Testament. In Genesis 14 we see a line of kings and priests, which included Melchizedek, that ruled and reigned in Jerusalem for a period of 1000 years – and incredible model in advance of the Millennial reign of Christ! God established the monarchy in Israel but through the prophet Hosea stated His ultimate goal that “I will be thy king: where is any other that may save thee in all thy cities? and thy judges of whom thou saidst, Give me a king and princes?” (Hosea 13:10).
The last king to sit and reign on the Throne of David in Jerusalem was Zedekiah. He was subjugated and eventually defeated by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 B.C. The ‘crown’ was then effectively taken to Babylon , where it remained for 500 years until a group of Magi – a priestly Medo-Persian sect that the prophet Daniel had once been made ruler over – brought the crown back from Babylon intent on giving it to the rightful King of Israel!
Daniel had evidently instructed these Magi regarding the prophesied coming of the Jewish Messiah. The Magi were renowed for their wise counsel and thus they were consulted by Eastern rulers regarding affairs of state, in particular, the appointment of a new king!
There had been a long rivalry between the Roman Empire, who had granted Herod the title ‘king of the Jews’ and the Parthian Empire, that had been far more sympathetic toward Israel.
Into the midst of this highly charged political environment come – not three kings on camels (tradition is very wide of the mark here!) – but, a great number of Magi looking to anoint and bring their homage to the rightful King of the Jews! No wonder Herod was shaken – and all Jerusalem with him!
As Dr Chuck Missler comments: “The Magi, likely traveling in force with unimaginable oriental pomp and adequate cavalry escort to insure their safe penetration of Roman territory, certainly alarmed Herod and the entire populace of Jerusalem”
Jesus was of the Jewish royal line through both Joseph (via Solomon – Matthew Ch1) and Mary (via Nathan – Luke Ch3), now the Magi ratified that fact.
Before becoming King, Jesus had to first fulfil His role as ‘Lamb of God’ to take away the sins of the world. But when Jesus returns, He will establish His throne and rule over Israel and the whole world from Jerusalem.
“He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end”. (Luke 1:32)
“The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne” (Psalm 132:10)
“And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever”. (Daniel 2:44)
“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2)
“And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one… And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles”. (Zechariah 14:9, 16)
–So, when you think ‘Christmas, think…
–This has been fulfilled!”
‘The King of the Jews!’
–This will be fulfilled – soon!
May God richly bless you this Christmastime!