Some Things Never Change
Until Jesus Shows Up

Steve Highlander

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We often get the idea from sermons and Sunday School classes that the Jews in Jesus’ day were a united group. Nothing could be further from the truth.  The religious and political landscape in the first century was quite diverse.

First, there was a difference between the Jews and the Israelites. Every Jew was an Israelite, but not every Israelite was a Jew. Confused? So are most Christians. There were the Jews and the Samaritans. The Sadducees and Pharisees held very different views of the scriptures. The Essenes (of Dead Sea Scrolls fame) didn’t like either of the groups. Add in the Zealots, the political branch of the Jews were ultimately responsible for the political rebellion that resulted in the destruction of the temple. The gospels speak often of the chief priests, scribes, and lawyers resisting Jesus.

Jesus stepped out of heaven into this religious, political, and social mess. He came to bring unity to the nation of Israel. This booklet looks at the first and second coming of Jesus and seeks to find similarities between first-century beliefs, attitudes, and practices and the present-day church. The goal is to allow Jesus to speak into these things and change what needs to be changed, as we await the second advent of Christ. We are told that the Spirit of God will do a cleansing and refining work in the Church. Jesus is coming for a “bride dressed in a gown without spot or wrinkle.”

I can guarantee you will discover things you had not known before and learn to look at the gospel with fresh eyes.

Some Things Never change, Until Jesus Shows Up 

For hundreds of years before Jesus was born, the Israeli prophets told of a coming Messiah that would save the nation. The problem was that they offered two conflicting visions of the Messiah.

One was a conquering king—a descendant of David—who would reign in righteousness and propel the nation to worldwide status. Israel would be powerful and prosperous once again. This version of the Messiah was especially popular with the Jews under Roman occupation in the first century.  

The prophets also told of a suffering servant. A man of sorrows. A person who didn’t look like much on the outside—least of all a regal king. This ubiquitous person would suffer and die for the nation—but no one understood how or why. This version of the Messiah wasn’t as popular as you can imagine.

The Israelites could not reconcile the contradicting pictures provided by their prophets. They did not see what we could see—from a two-thousand-year-old rearview mirror perspective. They could not know the Messiah would come in two stages. Jesus 1.0: The suffering servant who would die on the cross and bring true salvation to the nation; and Jesus 2.0: The Son of David returning to put down all satanic rebellion and establish the promised kingdom for eternity.

To their credit, I do not think we would have been able to see that either, so let’s not be too harsh on them. Remember, none of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. Theirs was works-based religion; there was no direct access to the Father like we enjoy today. The gifts of the Holy Spirit to bring light and revelation were not available to them until Jesus rose from the dead and poured out the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The hallmark of Jesus’s ministry was revealing the truth and power of God’s kingdom on earth. That is what He came to do at His first advent.

The other purpose in His first advent was to reunite the divided Kingdom of Israel. We’ll look at this in more detail later,

The world Jesus invaded (and I use “invaded” specifically) was very different from today’s world. Yet, at the same time, so much of the religious and political attitudes are the same. Hence the title of this booklet: Some Things Never Change Until Jesus Shows Up.

In this message, I intend to show how the same religious and political attitudes that hindered the people of Israel in Jesus’ day also hinder the Christian Church today. Could it be that religious people are not all that different at heart—despite the centuries and/or various outward distinctions? I think I prove the point adequately.

Having proved the point is only half of the challenge. What to do with what we discover is the other half of the issue. And it will be the more challenging half to navigate. How will we respond to what is revealed herein? That is the question. So, let me ask you in advance, “Are you willing to be challenged? Are you willing to adjust according to what—if anything—the Holy Spirit might speak to you?” Saying “yes” in advance to these two questions will position you for transformation. Why not stop for a minute and God to speak to you

Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven Is at Hand

When John the Baptist showed up in Israel six months before Jesus, he had a particular message: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:1). When Jesus took center stage a few months later, His message was the same (Matthew 4:17).

It is essential to understand what John and Jesus were really saying, how it was understood by the Jewish people of Jesus’s day. I had always been taught that repentance meant “turning 180 degrees.” To “quit sinning.” And other similar ideas. It wasn’t until much later in my Christian life I discovered the real meaning of the word repent (metanoia in Greek) and how the people who heard John and Jesus understood the instructions.

Metanoia means to “think again,” or to “think twice.” It had to do more with changing the way we think than with quitting sin. For the skeptics I offer the following advice from John himself.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance. Matthew 3:7

It is clear John separated the act of repentance from the fruit of repentance. Let’s reread the message with a new understanding of repent.

[Think twice about this, change your mind], because the kingdom of God is at hand. And—as a result of rethinking this thing called the Kingdom of God—start acting differently (unauthorized Highlander version).

The Israelites of Jesus’s day had it all wrong, even though they were serious about the scriptures and performing the Mosaic Law. Centuries of interpretation (without the input of the Holy Spirit) had clouded the message—as we will see as we progress in this message. Their God-given religion had devolved into a legalistic and fleshly approach to God that had corrupted the leadership. That trickled down to the people. Jesus saw them as “sheep without shepherds.” Israel was lost and wandering with none to help. Jesus came to “seek and save the lost.” At one point, He claimed, “I am not sent, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24).” In Matthew 10:6, He sent His disciples out with the same instructions.

The first advent of Jesus was to confirm and fulfill God’s Covenant with the nation of Israel. He said, “I did not come to destroy the Law and the prophets but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). By living sinlessly, fulfilling the prophecies of His first advent, and correcting their misunderstanding of the Kingdom of God, he fulfilled the Old Covenant. That paved the way for His death and resurrection to enact and empower the New Covenant.

John and Jesus challenged their followers to think differently about the Kingdom of God. It might be wise to get a good understanding of where they were wrong. I believe the same problems and attitudes that hindered them hinder the Church today. We can learn from their mistakes as the Church prepares for the second coming of Jesus.

Let’s examine the various religious and political groups that John and Jesus confronted and see if we find someone we know—perhaps ourselves—in the mix.

Some things never change.

There will constantly be varying opinions on subjects — especially religion and politics. These are two of the most hotly debated topics in society—and when they are combined, they become exponentially more so.

“Make America Great Again.” “Black Lives Matter.” “My Body, My Choice.” “One nation under God” and other catchy slogans litter the religious, political, and social landscape. Did Jesus have to thread His way through a myriad of various opinions? Are we so different from the people He came to redeem two thousand years ago? I think not.

I find it interesting that the religious/political climate in Jesus’s day was so very similar to the climate in America today. Our Sunday School version of the four Gospels presents a very flat view of the Jewish people of the day. There were the “Jews” and the “Gentiles.” However, lumping all Jews into one category is categorically wrong (excuse the pun).

Let’s look at the diversity of groups and the religious/political views that existed in ancient Israel at the time of Christ. Not only will it help us to understand the context of the New Testament better, I think we will find it surprisingly similar to our own. James relates the Bible to a mirror, into which we look and see ourselves—for better or worse. I present this teaching with that specific thought in mind. It is my purpose that we look into the “perfect law of liberty,” see our reflection and make any adjustments necessary.

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