by Epiphany Bible Students

The doctrine of the Atonement and the Messianic era lies at the very foundation of Judaism and Christianity. Having thus the most important place in both theologies, a clear understanding of these subjects is very essential. The Atonement, though believed in, is little understood; the various ideas respecting it are disconnected as well as vague; and faith built upon disconnected and vague ideas of the foundation doctrine must, of necessity, be proportionately weak and unstable. On the contrary, if the Atonement, which is the basic principle of these two religious systems, be clearly understood, it not only will firmly establish faith upon correct principles, but it will serve as a guide in discriminating between truth and error regarding the Millennium. When the foundation is firmly established, and every item of doctrine built upon it is kept in alignment with that foundation, the entire faith superstructure will be perfect. But before we present the facts and philosophy that this is the Millennium, let us first establish faith in the Atonement, and in God’s Word.

The first five books of the Old Testament are known as the Five Books of Moses, though they nowhere mention his name as their author. That they were written by Moses, or under his supervision, is a reasonable inference, the account of his death and burial being properly added by his secretary. The omission of the positive statement that these books were written by Moses is no proof against the thought; for had another written them to impersonate Moses, to deceive and commit a fraud, he would surely have claimed that they were written by the great leader and statesman of Israel, in order to make good his imposition. (Deut. 31:9‑27) Of one thing we are certain, Moses did lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt. He did organize them as a nation under the laws set forth in these books; and the Hebrew people, for over three thousand years, have claimed these books as a gift to them from Moses, and have held them so sacred that a jot or tittle must not be altered.

The writings of Moses contain the only credible history extant of the epoch which it traverses. The account given in Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, starts with the reasonable assumption that a God, an intelligent Creator, already existed. It treats not of God having a beginning, but of his work and of its beginning and its systematic, orderly progress – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1) Then stepping over the origin of the earth without detail or explanation, the narrative of the six day epochs of preparing it for man proceeds. That account is substantially corroborated by the accumulating light of science of four thousand years; hence it is far more reasonable to accept the claim that its author, Moses, was Divinely inspired, than to assume that the intelligence of one man was superior to the combined intelligence and research of the rest of the race in three thousand years since, aided by modern methods and millions of dollars in the last hundred years.

The system of laws laid down in Moses’ writings was without an equal, either in their day or since. The laws of this century are based upon the principles laid down in the Mosaic Law, and framed, in the main, by men who acknowledged the Mosaic Law to be of Divine origin.

The government of Israel instituted by Moses differed from all others, ancient and modern, in that it claimed to be that of the Creator Himself, and the people were held accountable to God; their laws and institutions, civil and religious, claimed to emanate from the great Jehovah. An order of priests was established, which had complete charge of the Tabernacle, and through them alone access and communion with God was permitted with regard to the proper administration of their affairs as a nation.

The first thought of a skeptic in this connection might be: “Ah! I see the object of that organization; the priests ruled and controlled the people; they imposed upon their credulity, and excited their fears for their own honor and profit.”

But no one should assume anything where there is such good opportunity for proving the matter by the facts. The unanswerable evidence is contrary to such a supposition. The rights and privileges of the priests were limited; they were given no civil power whatever, and wholly lacked opportunity for using their office to impose upon the rights or consciences of the people; and this arrangement was made by Moses, a member of the priestly line.

Moses was God’s representative in bringing Israel out of Egyptian bondage, thus the force of circumstances centralized the government in his hand. This made Moses an autocrat in power and authority, though, from the meekness of his disposition, he was the overworked servant of the people, whose very life was being exhausted by the onerous cares of his position. Israel’s government, regarded in the light of its own claim, was a theocracy, that is, a Divine government; for the laws given by God, through Moses, permitted of no amendments; they must neither add to nor take from their code of ‑laws. Thus Israel’s government was different from any other civil government, either before or since. “The Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be elders of the common people and bring them unto the Tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee. And I will come down and talk with thee there, and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee and will put it upon them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not alone.” (Num. 11 :16,17) Moses, rehearsing the matter, says, “So I took the chief of your tribes, wise ‑men, and known [of influence], and made them heads over you: captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, and captains over fifties, and captains over tens, and officers among your tribes.” (Deut. 1:15; Exod. 18:13‑26)

Thus the distinguished lawgiver, Moses, so far from seeking to perpetuate or increase his own power by placing the government of the people under the control of his direct relatives of the priestly class, to use their religious authority to fetter the rights and liberties of the people, on the contrary introduced to Israel a form of government calculated to cultivate the spirit of liberty. The histories of Gentile rulers show no parallel to this. In almost every case the ruler has sought his own aggrandizement and greater power. Even in instances where such have aided in establishing republics, it has usually appeared from subsequent events that they were activated through policy, to obtain favor with the people, and to perpetuate their own power.

Circumstanced as Moses was, any ambitious man, governed by policy and attempting to perpetuate a fraud upon the people, would have worked for greater centralization of power in himself and in his family. This would have been an easy task since the religious authority was already vested in that tribe, and from the claim of that nation to be governed by God. Nor is it supposable that a man capable of forming such laws, and of ruling such a people, would be so dull of comprehension as not to see the possibilities and advantages which he might accrue to himself. So completely was the government of the people put into the peoples, own hands, that though it was stipulated that the weightier cases which the governors could not decide were to be brought unto Moses, yet the governors themselves were the judges as to what cases went before Moses. “The cause which is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it,” said Moses. (Deut. 1:17)

Thus seen, Israel was a republic whose officers acted under a Divine commission. And to the confusion of those who ignorantly claim that the Bible sanctions an established empire rule over the people, instead of “a government of the people by the people,” be it noted that this republican form of civil government continued for over four hundred years. It was finally changed for that of a King‑rule at the request of the people, without God’s approval, who said to Samuel, then acting as a sort of informal president, “Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they shall say unto thee, for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” (1 Sam. 8:7) At God’s instance Samuel explained to the people how their rights and liberties would be disregarded, and how they would become servants by such a change; but Israel had become infatuated with the popular idea, illustrated all around them in Gentile nations (1 Sam. 8:6‑22). In considering this account of their desire for a king, is one not impressed with the thought that Moses could have firmly established himself at the head of a great empire without difficulty?

While Israel, as a whole, constituted one nation, yet tribal divisions were ever recognized after Jacob’s death. Each family, or tribe, by common consent, elected certain members as its representatives, or chiefs. This custom continued even throughout their long slavery in Egypt. It was to these that Moses delivered the honor and power of civil government; whereas, had he desired to centralize power in himself and in his family, these would have been the last men to honor with power and office.

The instructions which were given by Moses to those appointed to civil rulership were a model of simplicity and purity. He declared to the people, in the presence and in the hearing of these governors or judges: “I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother and the stranger [foreigner] that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man, for the judgment is God’s; and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me, and I will hear it.” (Deut. 1:15‑17)

In view of these facts, what would one think of a theory which suggests that these laws were written by knavish priests to secure to themselves influence and power over the people? Would such men for such a purpose make laws destructive to the very aims they sought to advance? The record proves conclusively that Moses, the great Ruler of Israel, a member of the tribe of Levi, and brother of Aaron, the priest, cut off the Levites and the priesthood from all civil power by placing that power in the hands of the people.

Again it is worthy of note that the laws of the most advanced civilization, in this twentieth century, do not more carefully provide that rich and poor shall stand on a common level in accountability before the civil law. Absolutely no distinction was made by Moses, law. And as for the protection of the people from the dangers incident to some becoming very poor and others becoming excessively wealthy and powerful, no other national law has ever been enacted which so carefully guarded this point. Moses’ law provided for a restoration of all property every fiftieth year – The Jubilee Year. This law, by preventing the permanent sale and absolute alienation of property, thereby prevented its accumulation in the hands of a few. (Lev. 25:9,13‑23,27‑30)

All the laws were made public, thus preventing designing men from successfully tampering with the rights of the people. The laws were exposed in such a manner that anyone who chose might copy them; and in order that the poorest and most unlearned might not be ignorant of them, it was made the duty of the priests to read them to the people at their septennial festivals (Deut. 31:10‑13). Is it reasonable to suppose that such laws and arrangements were designed by men scheming to defraud the people of their liberties and happiness? Such an assumption would be unreasonable.

In its regard for the rights and interest of foreigners, and of enemies, it is doubtful if the laws of the most civilized nation today equal the Mosaic law in fairness and benevolence. We read:

“Ye shall have one manner of law as well for the stranger [foreigner] as for one of your own country; for I am the Lord your God.” (Exod. 12:49; Lev. 24:22) “And if a stranger [foreigner] sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him; but the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shall love him as thyself; for ye were strangers [foreigners] in the land of Egypt.” (Lev. 19:33‑34)

“If thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, wouldst thou cease to leave thy business and help him? Thou shalt leave it, to join with [assist] him.” (Exod. 23:4‑5, margin)

Even the dumb animals were not forgotten. Cruelty to these as well as to human beings was strictly prohibited. An ox must not be muzzled while threshing the grain, for the good reason that any laborer is worthy of his food. Even the ox and the ass must not plow together, because so unequal in strength and tread, it would be cruelty. Their rest was also provided for. (Deut. 25:4; 22:10; Exod. 23:12).

The priesthood may be claimed by some to have been a selfish institution, because the priestly tribe – the tribe of Levi – was supported by the annual tenth, or tithe, of the individual produce of their brethren of the other tribes. This fact, stated thus, is an unfair presentation common to skeptics who misrepresent one of the most remarkable evidences of God’s part An the organization of that system of government. It was not the work of a selfish and scheming priesthood; it was founded upon the strictest equality and justice, as we shall show: When Israel came into possession of the land of Canaan, the priestly tribe, the Levites, had as much right to a share of the land as the other tribes; yet, by God’s express command, they got none of it except in certain cities or villages for residences, scattered among the various tribes whom they were to serve in religious matters. Instead of the land, it was only just that some equivalent should be provided for them, and the tithe was therefore this reasonable and just provision. And be it noted, that the tithe, though, as we have seen, a just debt, was not enforced as a tax, but was to be paid as a voluntary contribution. And no threat bound them to make those contributions; all depended upon their conscientiousness. The only exhortations to the people on the subject are as follows:

“Take heed to thyself that thou forsake not the Levite as long as thou livest upon the earth.” (Deut. 12:19) “And the Levite that is within thy gates, thou shalt not forsake him; for he hath no part nor inheritance (in the land] with thee.” (Deut. 14:27)

Is it reasonable to suppose that this order of things would have been thus arranged by selfish and ambitious priests – an arrangement to disinherit themselves and to make them dependent for support upon their brethren for whatever their brethren felt disposed to give them? Does not reason teach us to the contrary?

Consistent with this, is the further fact that no special provision was made for honoring the priesthood. In nothing would impostors be more careful than to provide reverence and respect for themselves, and severest punishments and penalties upon those who mistreated and misused them. But nothing of the kind appears; no special honor, no special reverence or immunity from violence or insult, is provided. The common law, which made no distinction between classes, was their only protection. This is the more remarkable because the treatment of servants, and strangers, and the aged, was the subject of special legislation. For instance: “Thou shalt not vex nor oppress a stranger, or widow, or fatherless child; for if they cry at all unto me (God] I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall be widows and your children fatherless.” (Exod. 22:21‑24; 23:9; Lev. 19:33‑34) “Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy, whether he be of thy brethren, or of strangers that are in thy land, within thy gates. At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it, for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it; lest he cry against thee unto the Lord and it be sin unto thee.” (Lev. 19:13; Deut. 24:14‑15) “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head and honor the face of the old man.” (Lev. 19:32) All this, yet no special provision for priests or their tithes. Would not a selfish, scheming priesthood have provided for themselves?

Our hasty glance has furnished overwhelming evidence that this law, which constitutes the framework of the entire system of revealed religion, is a marvelous display of equity and justice. In the light of reason, we must admit that it bears no evidence of being the work of wicked, designing men, but that it corresponds exactly with what reason teaches to be the character of God. And further, the pious and noble lawgiver, Moses, states emphatically that the laws were not his own, and attributes them to God. (Exod. 24:12; Deut. 9:9‑11; Lev. 1:1)

Let us glance now at the general character of the prophets of the Bible and their testimonies. A remarkable fact is that the prophets, with few exceptions, were not of the priestly class; and in their day their prophecies were generally repugnant to the then degenerating and time‑serving priesthood, as well as to the idolatrously inclined people. The burden of their message from God to the people was generally reproof for sin, coupled with warnings of coming punishments, intertwined with which were promises of future blessings, after they should be cleansed from sin and should return to favor with God. The experiences of the prophets were far from enviable; they were generally reviled, many of them being imprisoned and put to violent deaths. (I Kings 18:4,17,18,19; Jer. 38:6; Heb. 11:32‑36) In some instances it was years after their death before their true character as God’s prophets was recognized. (We refer exclusively to the Biblical prophets.)

When it is remembered that these prophets were mainly laymen, drawing no support from the tithes of the priestly tribe, and when, added to this, is the fact that they were frequently not only the reprovers of kings and judges, but also of the personal sins of the priests, it becomes evident that we could not reasonably conclude that these prophets were parties to any league of priests, or others, to fabricate falsehood in the name of God. Reason in the light of facts contradicts such a suspicion.

If, then, we find no reason to impeach the motives of the writers of the Old Testament, but find that the spirit of its various parts is righteousness and truth, let us next proceed to investigate whether there exists any singleness of pattern, any common link, or bond of union, between the record of Moses, those of the other prophets, and those of the New Testament writers. If we shall find one pattern, one purpose, one aim and one common line of thought interwoven throughout the law and the prophets and the New Testament writing, which cover a period of fifteen hundred years, this, taken in connection with the character of the writers, will be a good reason for admitting their claim ‑ that they are Divinely inspired ‑ particularly if the theme common to all of them is a grand and noble one, comporting well with what reason and common sense teaches regarding the character and attributes of God.

We find that the New Testament throughout constantly points and refers to one prominent character, Jesus of Nazareth who, it claims, was the Son of God. From beginning to end His name, office, and work are made prominent. That a man called Jesus of Nazareth lived, and was somewhat noted, about the time indicated by the writers of the New Testament, is a fact of history outside the New Testament, and it is variously and fully corroborated. That this Jesus was crucified because He had rendered Himself offensive to the Jews and their priesthood is. a further fact established by history outside the evidence furnished by the New Testament writers. We also find that the writers of the New Testament (except Paul and Luke) were the personal acquaintances of Jesus of Nazareth, whose doctrines their writings set forth.

The existence of any book implies motive on the part of the writer. We therefore inquire, What motive inspired the writers of the New Testament to espouse the cause of this man “who was made of no reputation,” who was condemned as a blasphemer and crucified as a malefactor, the most religious ones among the Jews demanding His death as one unfit to live? And in espousing His cause, and promulgating His doctrines, we find that these writers braved contempt, deprivation and bitter persecution, risked life itself and in some cases even suffered martyrdom. Let us admit that while Jesus lived He was a remarkable person in both His life and His teaching, but what motive could there have been for any one to espouse His cause after He was dead ‑ especially when His death was so ignominious? And if we suppose that these writers invented their narratives, and that Jesus was their imaginary or ideal hero, how absurd to suppose that sane men, after making a claim that He was the Son of God, that He had been begotten in a supernatural way, had supernatural powers by which He had healed lepers, restored sight to those born blind, caused the deaf to hear, and even raised the dead – how absurd to suppose that they would wind up the story of such a great and marvelous character by stating that a band of His enemies got together and executed Him as a felon, while all His friends and His disciples, and among them the writers themselves, forsook Him and fled in the trying moment. The writers themselves frankly acknowledge that they were perplexed by the apparent inconsistency of the situation and they expressed their sore disappointment, saying, “We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel.” (Luke 24:21)

It was not until after they had carefully examined the Old Testament Scriptures that they were able to understand and clarify the seeming inconsistency regarding the tragic death of one who, Himself, manifested the power to raise others from the dead. After a careful study of the Old Testament prophecies, they then furnished a Scriptural and logical reason for their faith and trust; and all the writers without exception were perseveringly faithful to those reasonable convictions down to their very death. And nothing connected with the Gospel Narrative of the New Testament appeals to human judgment more forcibly than does its simplicity. The fact that the blunderings, weaknesses, failures, and shortcomings of the Apostles themselves are faithfully narrated, and that without apologies or excuses or attempts to gloss over the defects and imperfections, shows a sincerity of purpose and a truthfulness of intention. The record reveals the shameless perfidy of Judas, and the weakness of the remaining eleven, who, in Jesus’ darkest hours, forsook Him, and fled, seeking personal safety, one of them subsequently denying Him. The writers of the New Testament would have been excusable had they interjected explanations and excuses for their weak course and shameful conduct; but the narrative is stronger as it stands, for we might be loath to accept‑ excuses had they offered them for themselves.

And what we have here noticed, we found likewise applicable to the various writers of the Old Testament. We found that they too were men notable for their fidelity to the Lord; and the Old Testament as impartially records and reproves their weaknesses and shortcomings as it commends their virtues and faithfulness. Thus there is a straightforwardness about the Old and New Testaments which stamps them as truth.

Having then found that both the Old and New Testaments were written by men whose motives we see no reason to impugn, but which, on the contrary, we see reason to approve, let us next examine the writings claimed as inspired,. to see whether their teachings correspond with the character we have reasonably imputed to God, and whether they bear internal evidence of their truthfulness.

This we do find: One plan, pattern, spirit, aim and purpose pervades‑the entire Old and New Testaments. The opening pages of the Old Testament record the creation and fall of man; the closing pages of the New Testament tell of man’s recovery from the fall; and its intervening pages show the successive steps of the plan of God for the accomplishment of that purpose. The harmony, yet contrast, of the first three chapters of the Old Testament and the last three chapters of the New, is striking. The Old Testament describes the creation of man and his fall into sin, the new describes how the creation is to be restored, with sin and its penal‑curse removed; the one shows Satan and evil entering the world to deceive and to cause death, the other shows how his work is to be undone, the dead restored to life, evil extinguished and Satan destroyed; the one shows the dominion of I earth lost by Adam, the other shows how it will be restored and forever established by Jesus Christ, the Messiah, and God’s will “done on earth as it is done in heaven”; the one shows sin the producing cause of degradation, shame and death; the other shows the reward of righteousness to be glory, honor and life.

(To be continued)