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ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

BIBLICAL PERSONS

ABRAHAM, ISAAC, AND JACOB

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the patriarchs of the Old Testament who worshipped the true God. The Bible uses the formula “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” in several places because God referred Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God told Moses: “This is what you will say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever; this is my title for all generations.” (Exodus 3:15). The Jews also use the same formula or “The God of our forefathers” in their prayers. This reminds them of the covenant that God made with Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3) and reaffirmed with Isaac (Genesis 26:3–4), and Jacob (Genesis 28:14–15).

ANDREW, THE APOSTLE

Andrew was son of Jonas, brother of Simon Peter and a disciple of John the Baptist. He was one among the two who heard John the Baptist introducing Jesus saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:35-37). He was the first to follow Jesus and was enthusiastic to introduce Jesus to his brother Simon Peter (John 1:40-42). Unlike his brother Simon, Andrew was not outspoken. However, he was passionate in preaching the gospel. He preached in Asia Minor (Turkey), Scythia, east of Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia. He faced martyrdom of crucifixion with boldness and courage. According to tradition, he was crucified in the town of Patra in Greece in 61 AD by Governor Aepeas. When he was sentenced to be crucified, Andrew begged that his cross be different from his master’s because of his unworthiness to use the same type of cross. So, his was an X-shaped cross which is now known as St. Andrew’s cross. While on the cross for two days, he preached from there. Two-crossed fish is also used as a symbol of Andrew because he was a fisherman before becoming an apostle of Jesus and was crucified on an X shaped cross.

ANGEL OF THE LORD

The Bible does not specify the name of the angel in Joseph’s dreams. Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament is often a representative of God or God Himself to communicate with a human being. Some examples of the Angel of the Lord’s appearance are to Hagar (Gen 16:7-14), to Abraham and Sarah at Mamre (Gen 18:1), to Abraham on Mount Moriah (Gen 22:11-12; 22:15), to Jacob (Gen 31:11; 32:25), to Moses (Ex 3:2), to Joshua (Josh 5:13-15), to Gideon (Judg 6:22), and Samson’s parents (Judg 13:21-22).

“The angel of the Lord” differs from regular angels. His presence manifests a divine presence along with the glory of the Lord.

ANGELS AND HUMANS

There are differences between humans and angels. Though God created both angels (Colossians 1:16) and humans, only humans are recorded as created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). Humans and some group of angels sinned. Jesus died for the salvation of humans. So, only they can be forgiven and not the fallen angels (2 Peter 2:4). Only humans marry and generate children. The angles have “superior strength and power” (2 Peter 2:11). They exist in heaven which is a higher level of existence than the physical universe (Matthew 18:10, Rev. 5:11-12).

ANGELS, NAMES OF

There are three angels specially mentioned by name in the Bible:

(1) Michael in Hebrew means “Who is like God.” Michael presides over the prayers and offerings of the faithful.

(2) Raphael means “The Medicine of God.” Raphael presides over the healing of human bodies. He restored sight to Tobit when he was blind (Tobit 11: 7-15).

(3) Gabriel means “The Power of God.” Gabriel presides over the conflicts and wars of the faithful as in Daniel 12. He is also a messenger of God. Angel Gabriel appears four times in the Bible communicating God’s message to His faithful servants: to Prophet Daniel (Ch. 10), to John the Baptists’ father Zachariah (Luke 1:5-20), to mother of Jesus, Mary (Luke 1:26-38) and to John in the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:1-2).

ANNA

Luke introduced Anna as a prophetess when there was no prophet for over four centuries after Prophet Malachi who lived around 450 BC. Though Luke presented Anna as a prophetess, he does not specify any of her foretelling. As a prophetess, she was a preacher of the Word of God, especially to the women who came to the Temple. Her name in Hebrew is “Hannah” which means grace. There was another prophetess in the Old Testament with the same name and similar religious practices. That was Hannah, the mother of Samuel.

There were five prophetesses before Christ, Miriam, the sister of Moses, was the first one (Ex 15:20), who led the women of Israel in praising God for saving Israel while drowning Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea. Another prophetess was Deborah (Judg 4:4) who was also a judge of Israel before the reign of kings. Huldah was also prophetess (2 Kgs 22:14). The other prophetesses were Noadiah (Neh 6:14) and Isaiah’s wife (Isa 8:3). Then came Anna, who arrived at the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. The prophetesses were very few and served only short-term compared to the male prophets of the Old Testament.

After seven years of her married life, Anna became a widow. Instead of considering a second marriage, she dedicated her life to God in the Temple. She remained in the Temple, worshipping God day and night with fasting and prayer. She got shelter in the Temple premises like Prophetess Huldah (2 Chr 34:22) and spent her time in the Women’s Court. As a prophetess, she might have been guiding women who came for worship and might have volunteered to clean the Temple. The Jews considered such service at the Temple as a noble task for God. So, Anna might have been a familiar character for the worshippers, especially women. She also might have been the leader of a community of widows who settled there for worship and service in the Temple.

ANNAS, THE HIGH PRIEST

John the Evangelist reports that Jesus was brought in front of Annas the former high priest and father-in-law of Caiaphas, the then high priest. Annas was a corrupt person and had bribed the Romans to get the position of high priesthood. He had business alliance with the merchants who were money changers and sellers of sacrificial animals in the temple area. Since excessive exploitation was taking place in the name of God at the holy place, Jesus had wiped out the businessmen. That ignited the fury of Annas against Jesus and caused the arrest of Jesus.

Jesus questioned the trial of Annas because he was violating the Jewish procedure of trial. The accusers were supposed to bring two independent witnesses against the accused. The judge was not supposed to ask leading questions to the accused. When Jesus questioned these to Annas, the temple guard struck Jesus. Jesus questioned that also, because he was right in answering.

APOSTLES

The apostolic vocation was a call from Jesus followed by consent and commitment from the apostles. Jesus had many followers called disciples. Disciples were admirers and followers of Jesus. Whereas the apostles were fulltime companions of Jesus who learnt from Jesus’ words and actions. They were also his messengers of the Kingdom of God during and after his public ministry.

There were some common features and differences among the 12 apostles that Jesus selected and appointed for his mission. All of them were ordinary Jews, not experts in the law or the interpretations of the law, open minded, holding their own secular professions to support their families. Jesus avoided Scribes who were experts in the Scripture, Pharisees who were conservative and separated from the public, and Sadducees who were mainly priests. None of the members of the Sanhedrin were selected. He selected sinners like Matthew and zealots like Simon. All the 12, except Judas Iscariot, were Galileans. All the apostles, including Matthew the richest among them, left everything they had to follow Jesus and considered the Kingdom of God as their most valuable treasure. They left their family and formed a family with Jesus.

The apostles were not sure of what kind of kingdom Jesus was going to establish. In fact they were confused on that issue. They were fighting for positions because of their misunderstanding that Jesus was going to establish an earthly kingdom. It was not their fault because such was the common belief on Messiah at that time. Within the three years of training, Jesus reformatted the mind of the apostles according to his vision. They were open to receive the message of Jesus and his Messiahship different from the common understanding of the time. All of them (Matthias in the place of Judas), received the Holy Spirit and continued the mission of Jesus. All of them faced challenges and persecution because they took up the mission of Jesus. They felt joy and satisfaction in their mission than in their previous way of life. All of them, except John the Evangelist, faced martyrdom.

APOSTLES’ COMMON FEATURES

Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen. Thomas, Nathaniel and Philip were also engaged in fishing (John 21:2-8).

Peter, James and John were the inner circle of Jesus.

There were two James: James son of Zebedee and James the son of Alphaeus

There were two Judas: Judas Thaddeus and Judas Iscariot

There were two Simons: Simon Peter and Simon the Cananean

Peter, Nathaniel (Bartholomew) and Thomas made profession of faith to Jesus.

Mathew and John wrote the gospels. Mark and Luke were not from the initial apostles.

There were three sets of brothers. (1) Peter and Andrew, (2) James and John who were sons of Zebedee, and (3) James the son of Alphaeus, Judas Thaddeus the brother of James, and Simon the Canaanite or Zealot.

Simon, Judas Thaddeus, and James the Less were brothers as well as cousins of Jesus.

Peter, John, James, and Jude wrote epistles.

Andrew and Philip were disciples of John the Baptist.

Peter and John accompanied Jesus to the high priests’ residence during the trial of Jesus.

Jesus nicknamed James and John, the sons of Zebedee as Boanerges (sons of thunder).

Though Philip and James died on different dates at different locations, their feast is celebrated on the same day because, their bodies were moved and were buried together in the Church of the Twelve Apostles in Rome.

APOSTLES, FEAST DAYS

Feast Days

Peter & Paul  – June 29

St. James the Greater – July 25

St. John the Evangelist – December 27

St. Andrew – November 30

St. Philip - May 3

St. Bartholomew – August 24

St. Matthew – September 21

St. Thomas – July 3

St. James the Less – May 3

St. Judas Thaddeus – October 28

St. Simon the Cananean – October 28

(Judas Iscariot) St. Matthias - May 14

APOSTLES, KIND OF DEATH OR MARTYRDOM

Type of martyrdom / death, place and date

(Some of these are based on traditions or common beliefs only)

St. Peter was crucified upside down at Vatican Hills in Rome in 67 A.D.

St. James the Great was beheaded in Jerusalem in 42 A.D.

St. John the Evangelist had a natural death at Ephesus in 100 A.D.

St. Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped Cross in Achaia at Patras in 61 A.D.

St. Philip was crucified upside down at Hierapolis in Persia in 62 AD.

St. Bartholomew was martyred by skinning alive in Armenia in 72 AD.

St. Matthew was killed with a spear in Ethiopia in 65 AD.

St. Thomas was stabbed to death by a spear at Mylapore in India in 72 AD.

St. James the Less was crucified and then sawed to pieces in Egypt in 62 AD.

St. Judas Thaddeus was clubbed to death at Ararat about 65 AD.

St. Simon the Cananean was crucified at Caistor (Lincolnshire) England in 74 AD.

Judas Iscariot hanged himself (Matthew 27:5) at Aceldama in Jerusalem in 30 AD.

APOSTLES, TWELVE

See TWELVE APOSTLES 

APOSTLES, UNIQUENESS

Matthew was a tax collector for Rome and so was considered as a public sinner.

Simon was a zealot.

Andrew was the first called by Christ to be his disciple.

Only Peter was given the keys of heaven (Matthew 16:19).

Only Thomas was absent when Jesus first appeared to the apostles.

Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus and never considered as saint.

Only John was at the foot of the cross.

James was the first martyr among the apostles and the only martyrdom of an apostle recorded in the Bible (Acts 12:1-3).

Unlike other apostles, Jesus found Philip.

Among the apostles, only Peter had that privilege of Jesus changing the name.

Only Judas Iscariot was from Judea. Others were from Galilee.

Peter  denied Jesus three times during the trial of Jesus.

John wrote the book of Revelation.

Peter’s name and activities are recorded in the New Testament more than any other apostle.

ASHER, TRIBE OF

Asher was Jacob’s eighth son from Zilpah, Leah’s maid and Jacob’s concubine (Gen 30:12-13). This tribe was one among the 10 Northern tribes that fell into idolatrous worship (2 Kgs 17:16). So God withdrew his support, and the Assyrians attacked and dispersed the Northern Kingdom in 722 BC. A very few faithful from the ten tribes had migrated to the south so they could continue to worship the true God in the Temple. However, they had to sacrifice many of their family members, friends, land, and inheritance. Anna’s family was one among such exemplary people who wanted to continue their faithfulness to the true God. Thus, God involved a lady outside the tribe of Judah to give witness to the infant Jesus.

BARTHOLOMEW / NATHANIEL

Nathanael, also known as Bartholomew, was from Cana in Galilee (John 21:2). Philip introduced Jesus to Nathanael. When Jesus saw Nathanael, he said of him: “Here is a true Israelite. There is no duplicity in him.” (John 1:47). Response of Nathanael to Jesus was a profession of faith: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (John 1:49). Jesus promised Nathanael: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51). Nathanael preached in India and then at Asia Minor. He was martyred by skinning alive in Armenia in 72 AD.

CAESAR AUGUSTUS

Caesar Augustus was the first and greatest of the Roman emperors who ruled between 27 BC and 14 AD. When 40 Roman senators, through a conspiracy, assassinated Julius Caesar in 43 BC, he had selected to name his sister’s son Gaius Octavius as his successor. He later got the name, Caesar Augustus. Caesar defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra in 31 BC and afterwards gained control over Rome and its extensive territories. He became emperor in 27 BC and the senate gave him the honorary title Augustus. Augustus means ‘majestic.’ During his reign, he brought peace and prosperity to the empire.

During those days, there was no common religion. People considered the emperor as a god or son of god. Greek inscriptions reveal that the people accepted Augustus as “saviour” and “god” in the empire. After becoming emperor, Caesar Augustus maintained peace in the empire called “pax Augusta.” Jesus was born during his reign. However, the Evangelist Luke presents in the child Jesus, the true God and Saviour who brought peace into the world.

CENTURION

During the time of Jesus, the Jews were under Roman rule. Their military presence was all over the nation. Centurions were military officers who oversaw 100 soldiers each. Centurion in Latin means 100.

The Bible mentions several centurions as admirable characters:

1. The centurion who requested Jesus to heal his paralyzed servant (Mt 8:5-13; Lk 7:1-10). According to the Jewish elders, he deserved Jesus’ favour because he loved the Jewish nation and had built a synagogue for them (Lk 7:3-5). Besides a man of charity, he became an icon of humility and faith in Jesus.

2. Another centurion, whose name is unavailable, supervised Jesus’ crucifixion. Pilate assigned him to do so because the Jews had no authority to execute anybody. The centurion noticed the extraordinary signs that happened at Jesus’ death. “When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’ ” (Mk 15:39). Thus he, like many others, proclaimed the divinity of Jesus.

3. While Jesus hung dead on the cross, “one of the soldiers thrust a lance into his side and immediately there flowed out blood and water” (Jn 19:34). According to some legends, this soldier was Longinus, a blind centurion. When he pierced Jesus’ heart, blood fell upon his eyes and he regained sight. Because of this miracle, he became a Christian, and the church venerates him as a saint.

4. Acts chapter 10 presents an exemplary centurion. “There was in Caesarea a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was called the Italian Cohort. He and his whole household were religious and God-fearing. He gave generously to the people and constantly prayed to God” (Acts 10:1-2). Cornelius had a divine vision in which an angel of God told him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial offering before God” (Acts 10:4). He and his family were the early gentile converts to Christianity who received baptism from Saint Peter.

5. A centurion interceded with his commander to avoid scourging Paul because he was a Roman citizen by birth (Acts 22:25-30).

6. Another centurion helped Paul to send his nephew to the Roman commander to communicate the conspiracy of the Jews to kill Paul (Acts 23:17-18).

7. When a Roman commander sent Paul to Felix the governor of Caesarea, two centurions escorted Paul to protect him from the hostile Jews (Acts 23:23).

8. Another centurion was Julius of the Cohort Augusta, who oversaw Paul and other prisoners’ transportation to Rome. During the shipwreck, this man trusted Paul and prevented his fellow soldiers from killing Paul and other prisoners (Acts  27:43).

DEMONS

The demon-possession is presented as a common phenomenon in the gospels. Before the development of scientific clarity on the causes of diseases, the cause of many disabilities were attributed to the evil spirits. The demons were considered to be present specially at tombs and desert places. Epilepsy (Mark 9:17-27), mental disorder (Mark 5:1-5) and physical disabilities like dumbness (Matthew 9:32-33) and blindness (Matthew 12:22) were attributed to the demons. When the sick persons were convinced that they were possessed by demons, they would produce symptoms of the demon-possessed. For such people, the cure could happen only when they were convinced that the demon had left them.

“Unclean spirit” and “Demon” are interchangeably used in the Gospels to refer to supernatural beings who could enter the life of humans and take control of them (Matthew 12:43-45, Mark 5:2-5). The ancient world, including Jews, believed in the influence of demons. There were different believes on their origin. Some believed that they existed even from the time of creation. Another belief was that they were the souls of the wicked people who have died continuing their malicious deeds entering in others’ bodies. The demon possessed person spoke as demons. The demons caused many physical and mental disorders in the possessed person. Such an “unclean spirit” possessed person was considered as unclean that was indicative of ritual impurity.

The Catholic teaching is that Satan (devil) and demons were angles created by God. But they became evil by their wrongdoing (CCC 391). These created spirits had rejected God and his reign out of their free choice (CCC 392). The sins of angels were unforgivable, and they had no chance for repentance like there is no chance of repentance for humans after death (CCC 393). However, the influence of Satan and demons will have an end with the second coming of Jesus Christ.

DEMONS’ APPOINTED TIME

God has allowed the evil spirits to torment the humans only until the time of final judgement (Enoch 16:1, Jubilees 10:7–10). The demons knew that the appointed time had not arrived. So, they considered that they had the opportunity to continue tormenting the humans. However, Jesus who had power over the evil spirits, was going to expel the demons from the demoniacs and liberate them from their bondage.

DEVIL / ENEMY / SATAN / LUCIFER

Lucifer, means “Morning Star,” was once a mighty angel became proud of his beauty and splendor corrupted his wisdom (Ezekiel 28:17) and became known as Satan, meaning “adversary” through his self-generated pride. This Satan tempted the first parents to commit sin taking the form of a serpent. He continues his role as adversary until the second coming of Christ. Instead of taking the form of a serpent, the Satan through humans can influence the innocent believers and church leaders to commit sin.

The enemy of the Son of Man is the devil, also known as Satan. Devil, the fallen angel (Isaiah 14:12) has been active since the creation of Adam and Eve. God established enmity between the children of Eve and of the devil: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers.” (Genesis 3:15). The devil had tempted Jesus in the wilderness at the beginning of his public ministry. The Satan also worked through Peter (Matthew 16:23)  and Judas Iscariot (Luke 22:3). The devil or Satan continues his work of sowing weeds among the Christians, even through the Christians.

DISCIPLE WHOM JESUS LOVED

This usage is seen only in the gospel of John. From the early church onwards, it is believed to be a reference to John himself. There are five occasions when John uses this phrase in his gospel:

1. John 13:23. At the last supper when John was reclining with Jesus along with other apostles.

2. John 19:26. When Jesus entrusted his mother to John while on the cross.

3. John 20:2. When Mary Magdalene reported the empty tomb to Peter and John.

4. John 21:7. When John identified to Peter that Jesus was on the shore directing them for the miraculous catch of fish.

5. John 21:20. Peter asking of John’s end of life to Jesus after Jesus told about how Peter would die.

The author out of his modesty was not using his name or “I” at these places. Another reasoning is that because of the persecution when the gospel was published, the author was concealing his identity for security reasons while his readers would recognize who he was.

DISMAS & GESTAS

Two revolutionaries were crucified on both sides of the true revolutionary of God’s love, Jesus. During the time of the public ministry of Jesus, there were Jewish revolutionaries like Barabbas who fought against the Roman rule. Jesus’ crucifixion amid two wicked men was the fulfillment of Isaiah 53:12, “he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.” Bible does not give the names of the two rebels. However, they are known as Dismas and Gestas based on a non-canonical book, “The Gospel of Nicodemus” written in the fourth century. Dismas was considered as the good thief who asked Jesus to remember him in Christ’s kingdom” and to which Jesus replied, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43). Gestas had asked Jesus, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” (Luke 23:39). The Catholic Church considers Dismas as a saint and celebrates his feast on March 25th.

ELIJAH AND JESUS

See JESUS AND ELIJAH

ENEMY

See DEVIL / ENEMY / SATAN / LUCIFER 

FISHERMEN

There were many who chose fishing as their profession in the Sea of Galilee. According to Josephus, the famous historian and governor of Galilee, there were around 330 fishing boats in the lake during that time. Fish was a main food for people in Palestine because they seldom used meat. Besides selling fresh fish, salted fish was shipped for sale to faraway places like Judea and Rome.

The call of fishers of men for evangelization among the nations, to bring all the scattered children of Israel, was a fulfillment of the prophesy of Jeremiah. “Look! - oracle of the LORD - I will send many fishermen to catch them.” (Jer. 16:16a). 

GABRIEL, ANGEL

The Bible mentions three angels by name:

1. Michael – in Hebrew means “Who is like God.” Michael presides over the prayers and offerings of the faithful.

2. Raphael – means “The Medicine of God.” Raphael presides over the cure of human bodies. This angel restored sight to Tobit when he became blind (Tob 11:7-15).

3. Gabriel – means “The Power of God.” Gabriel presides over the conflicts and wars of the faithful, as in Daniel chapter 12. This angel is also a messenger of God. God sent Angel Gabriel to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus, who would wage war against Lucifer (Gen 3:15).

Angel Gabriel appears four times in the Bible communicating God’s message to His faithful servants: to Prophet Daniel (Ch. 10), to John the Baptist’s father Zechariah (Lk 1:5-20), to Mary, the mother of Jesus (Lk 1:26-38), and Evangelist John in Patmos. (Rev 1:1-2). Though not specified in the Holy Bible, according to the Jewish tradition, Gabriel is one of the seven archangels. Out of these, only Zechariah’s vision happened in the Temple.

HEROD ANTIPAS

Herod Antipas was the king in Galilee from 4 B.C. to 39 A.D. He had martyred John the Baptist. He came to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Since Jesus was from Galilee, Pilate found an excuse from sentencing Jesus by sending him to his neighboring king and enemy, Herod. Herod also did not want to sentence Jesus in the territory of Pilate though he had previous plans to kill Jesus (Luke 13:31). Herod was curious to see Jesus and to see him perform some miracle. Though Jesus was mocked and persecuted by his soldiers, Jesus did not answer to any questions of King Herod. So, Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate.

HEROD THE GREAT, KING

King Herod, the king of Jews, got his authority over the Jews from the Roman emperor. Jews could not accept Herod as their king because he was of a mixed race and not a genealogical descendant of King David. Jews, based on the Holy Scripture, believed that their king should always be from the line of King David. Herod was half Jew and half Idumean. His mother was Jew and father an Idumean Antipater. Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar first appointed him as governor in 47 BC and in 40 BC gave him the title of king. He ruled Jews for a long period until his death in 4 B.C.

Herod, the king of Jews, was half Jew and half Idumaean. The Roman Senate with Antony’s recommendation first appointed him as governor in 47 BC, and in 40 BC gave him the title as king. He ruled the Jews for a lengthy period until his death in 4 BC. His title is Herod the Great because he was an able ruler, brought peace and order amid chaos, constructed prominent structures including the reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. He was generous to his people when they had economic difficulty and starvation. King Herod was at Jerusalem when the Magi arrived from the East though he had other residences.

King Herod known as King Herod the Great because he was an able ruler, brought peace and order during chaos, constructed prominent structures including the famous Temple of Jerusalem. He was generous to his people when they had economic difficulty or starvation.

Herod was aware of the rejective mentality of Jews toward him and he was always careful to protect his kingship. He had even killed his wife Maraimne, her mother Alexandra, his son Antipater, Alexander and Aristobulus. Such an insanely king would try to eliminate an infant to be born as king to replace him.

King Herod was stationed at Jerusalem when the Magi arrived from the East though he had other residences. Herod was afraid when he heard from the Magi that a king was born for the Jews. So, he ordered to kill the children below two years of age causing the Holy Family to flee to Egypt as refugees. The whole Jerusalem was also troubled because the Jews in Jerusalem knew that the power- hungry Herod would get rid of any king that would be born to save them.

King Herod the Great had a prominent role in the early stage of Jesus’ life. Herod had endangered Jesus’ life when he was an infant. Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar had appointed Herod as the king of Judea (40/37 BC – 4 BC). However, the Jews questioned his legitimacy because he was not of King David’s lineage. Herod’s father Antipater, was an Idumean – a non-Jew. Only a true Davidic descendant could be accepted as ‘King of the Jews’.

Herod was afraid when he heard from the Magi that a licit king had been born for the Jews. Since he could not identify the infant King, he gave orders to kill all children below two years of age in and around Bethlehem, prompting the Holy Family to flee to Egypt and live there for some time as refugees.

HOLY SPIRIT

Since the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, the Spirit is also God and is in communion with the other two persons of the Most Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit was in existence from eternity and is mentioned in the Bible from the time of creation. The Holy Spirit has been at work from the time of incarnation of Jesus, at the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus at River Jordan, and at the beginning of the church on the day of Pentecost. Jesus started his public ministry quoting from Isaiah the prophet, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18, Isaiah 61:1). The Holy Spirit that came on the apostles continues guiding the church.

The Lord, the giver of life,

The Holy Spirit is the source of physical and spiritual life. Following are a few of the examples: The “Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:2) at the time of creation. “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7). The Holy Spirit came upon Mary for the incarnation of Jesus (Mathew 1:18). Jesus had promised: “Rivers of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:38). John continues: “He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.” (John 7:39). After his glorification, this life-giving Holy Spirit came on the apostles inaugurating the formation of the church (Acts 2:1-13).

HUMANS AND ANGELS

See ANGELS AND HUMANS

ISAIAH AND MESSIAH

The Book of Isaiah is famous for its messianic prophecies. They include the announcement of his coming (Isa 40:3-5), his virgin birth (7:14), his proclamation of the good news (61:1-3), his sacrificial death (52:1353:12), and his return to claim His own (60:2-3). So, Jesus read from the Book of Isaiah either by divine providence or because the synagogue attendant wanted to know how Jesus would interpret Isaiah’s prophesies. The public in Capernaum had already understood Jesus as the Messiah before he read this passage in Nazareth.

Isaiah prophesied during the reign of Judean kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Isa 1:1) and died under the evil King Manasseh. Isaiah must have lived in Jerusalem (Isa 1:1). He prophesied from 739 to 681 BC to the southern kingdom of Judea that turned away from God. The Assyrians had taken the northern kingdom of Israel into captivity in 722 BC. The kingdom of Judah was in spiritual turmoil because of their idolatry and sinful life. The Assyrians and the uprising of Babylonians were threatening the southern kingdom.

According to the Prophet Isaiah, God made use of the pagan nations and their captivity as instruments to discipline sinful Israel. However, Isaiah gave the people hope that the promised Messiah would come to establish the golden age of peace and prosperity. The literal meaning of Isaiah is “Yahweh saves.” His name and message are the same as of Joshua and Jesus, who were also instruments of God’s saving power.

JAMES, THE APOSTLE AND SON OF ZEBEDEE

James was known as James, son of Zebedee, James the Elder or St. James the Great to distinguish him from another apostle with the same name. His name always appears in the Bible along with his brother John. His ministry was mainly in Jerusalem and Judea. James was the first apostle martyred and only his martyrdom is recorded in the Bible (Acts 12:1-3). He was beheaded at the order of King Herod Agrippa in 44 A.D. After his martyrdom, his body was transported to Spain and buried at Santiago de Compostela. That place became a great pilgrim center.

James also preached in Spain. While he was in Spain, at first, he found no positive outcome from his preaching. Mary, the Mother of Jesus bilocated and appeared to him in 40 AD on a pillar on the bank of River Ebro at Zaragoza and encouraged him stating that his mission would have great outcome.  Blessed Mother asked him to build a church there in her name. She gave a pillar of jasper to mark the spot where she had appeared to him.

JAMES, THE SON OF ALPHAEUS, THE APOSTLE

James the son of Alphaeus (Luke 6:15) and Mary (Mark 15:40) was known as James the Lesser or James the Younger to distinguish him from James the son of Zebedee who followed Jesus before him. According to some, he wrote the Epistle of James. There are believes that he was the brother of Matthew and Judas Thaddeus whose father was Alphaeus. James preached in Palestine and Egypt and was crucified in Egypt in 62 AD and then his body was sawed to pieces.

JEREMIAH AND JESUS

See JESUS AND JEREMIAH

JESUS CHRIST, MEANING

The word for “Jesus” in Hebrew is Joshua which means “God saves.” This name is suitable for Jesus, the God who came to save us. Jesus was also called Messiah in Hebrew and Christ in Greek which means anointed. The anointed people in Israel were kings, prophets, and priests. Christ held all these positions together and accomplished his mission that his Father entrusted him.  God the Father anointed Jesus through the Holy Spirit when John the Baptist baptized Jesus at river Jordan. That was why, on the day of Pentecost, Peter preached, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.” (Acts 10:38). The baptizer heard Father’s voice declaring, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Mathew 3:17). The Holy Spirit anointed Jesus at that time appearing in the form of a dove. Thus, the Most Holy Trinity manifested to John at the start of the public ministry of Jesus.

Kyrios (the Lord) was the Greek word used for the name of God.  YHWH himself had revealed this to Moses. The title "Lord" indicates the sovereignty of God. The same term “Lord” was used for Jesus in the New Testament acknowledging his divinity. St. Thomas addressed Jesus, “My Lord, my God” (John 20:28) affirming the divinity of Jesus.

JESUS AND JOSHUA

Jesus is Joshua in Hebrew, and Joshua means “Yahweh is salvation.” Joshua succeeded Moses and led the Israelites to Canaan, the Promised Land. He was only a representative of God in winning the war against Canaanites, who were larger and stronger than the Israelites. Jesus is the new Joshua who waged war against Satan, became victorious, and led his people to the new Promised Land, heaven. He is also Emmanuel, as Isaiah had prophesied, God who dwelt among us in the flesh.

Like Joshua of the Old Testament who led the Israelites through River Jordan to the promised land defeating the Canaanites, Jesus would save the people from their bondage of sin and would lead them through baptism to the lost Garden of Eden.

Jesus is the Greek word of Joshua, which means “Yahweh saves.” Like Joshua of the Old Testament who led the Israelites to the Promised Land by crossing River Jordan and defeating the Canaanites, Jesus would lead the people to heaven through baptism and defeating Satan. According to Psalm 130:8, “He will deliver Israel from all its sins.” So, God’s promised deliverance through the Messiah was not from the Roman rule, but from Satan, who persuades people to sin and thus blocks their entry to heaven.

JESUS AND JEWISH PRACTICES

Jesus used to attend synagogue service on a regular basis even when he had disagreements with some of their practices. His parents made sure that every Jewish practice was followed in Jesus’ life. They circumcised Jesus on the eighth day (Luke 2:21) and presented Jesus in the temple (Luke 2:22-40). When St. Luke, the Evangelist presents the event of finding the missed child Jesus in the temple at the age of 12, he starts saying: “Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover.” (Luke 2:41).

JESUS AS A PROPHET

Though some people found the spirit of a specific prophet of the past in Jesus, some others considered Jesus as one among the prophets. Prophet was a spokesperson of God and in that sense all who had received messages from God to humans were considered prophets. Jesus was also considered by people as a prophet. When Jesus fed 5,000, people said: “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.” (John 6:14). The Samaritan woman said to Jesus: “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” (John 4:19). When Jesus raised widow’s son in Nain, “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, exclaiming, ‘A great prophet has arisen in our midst,’ and ‘God has visited his people.’” (Luke 7:16). There were also other instances when people called Jesus a prophet (John 7:40, 9:17).

The responses of the public indicated that Jesus was popular, and people recognized him as a prominent prophet or a forerunner of the Messiah.

JESUS OF NAZARETH

The ancient Jews used to have only one name and added either the father’s name or the name of their place of origin. This was to identify them from others with the same first name. Examples of Biblical characters with native names are Simon the Cyrene (Luke 23:26), Mary Magdalene (Mary from Magdala) (Luke 8:2), and Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:51). Since Jesus spent much of his private life in Nazareth and since he had no human father, he was also known as Jesus of Nazareth. However, Jesus was also known as Jesus, the son of Joseph (Luke 4:22, John 1:45, 6:42).

Another reason for calling Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth,” according to the Evangelist Matthew, was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies. “He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazorean.’” (Matthew 2:23). However, there is no prophesy or even mention of Nazareth in the Old Testament. Matthew might be associating the resemblance of the name Nazareth with some Biblical references to the Messiah. “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (Isaiah 11:1). The word for shoot or bud in the original text is nēser that has resemblance to Nazareth. The annunciation of Samson’s birth, who delivered Israel from Philistines, was that he will be “a nazirite for God.” (Judges 13:5,7). That also has resemblance to the native place of Jesus. Since Nazareth was a small village and not significant in the history of Israel, the association of that name with that of Jesus was also an expression of the humble origin of Jesus as was his birth in a manger. The insignificance of Nazareth is clear from the response of Nathaniel to Philip: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" (John 1:46).

JESUS, GLORY OF

Jesus manifested his glory through the miracles he performed. The miracle of turning water into wine at Cana was the beginning of showing his glory. “This miraculous sign was the first that Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. In this way he manifested his glory and his disciples believed in him” (Jn 2:11). The disciples believed in Jesus as the Messiah because of these signs of glory. The glory that Jesus revealed was also the glory of his Father. Before raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus said, “This illness will not end in death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (Jn 11:4). Jesus shared his glory with his disciples (Jn 17:22).

JESUS, BLOOD AND WATER FROM HIS SIDE

The blood stands for the life of a person. Jesus shed even his last drop separating his body and blood as was done for the lamb sacrificed in the Temple. A soldier thrust a spear on the chest of Jesus to break his heart assuring that he was dead. The blood, from the heart along with the fluid of the pericardium that surrounds the heart, flowed down. John presents this as the fulfillment of the prophecy in Zechariah 12:10, “They will look upon him whom they have pierced.” The water stands for baptism and the blood for Holy Eucharist; both are the final gifts of Jesus for our salvation. Later he also gave us the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. We receive these three as Sacraments of Initiation to take full membership in the Holy Catholic Church headed by Christ.

JESUS, KING

There are several references to the kingship of Jesus in the Bible. At the time of annunciation, Angel Gabriel told Mary, "the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." (Luke 1:32-33). Jesus preached that the kingdom of God was at hand (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14-15, Luke 4:43, 11:20). Nathanael acknowledged Jesus, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel." (John 1:49). Matthew quoting from Zechariah 9:9 reported that the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was the fulfillment of a prophesy: “Behold, your king is coming to you.” (Matthew 21:5). People welcomed him saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” (Matthew 21:9). The accusation the Jews brought to Pilate against Jesus was that he claimed to be the king of Jews because they knew that it would irritate the Roman governor. That was why Pilate questioned Jesus asking, "Are You the King of the Jews?" to which he answered: "It is as you say." (Matthew 27:11, Mark 15:2, Luke 23:3). Jesus clarified to Pilate saying, "My kingdom does not belong to this world." (John 18:36). The soldiers of Pilate mocked Jesus based on the accusation against Jesus claiming as temporal king. “Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (Matthew 27:29). The inscription Pilate placed on the cross of Jesus was: “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:19).

JESUS, SONSHIP TITLES OF

There are seven sonship titles of the Messiah in the Bible, out of which the Pharisees chose one.

1. The Son of God

St. Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus back as the son of God (Luke 3:38) emphasizing the divine origin of Jesus. Though he was born of a woman, he had no human father. Angel Gabriel said to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35). At the time of his baptism and transfiguration, God revealed him as His Son. This divine sonship was confirmed in the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 13:32-33), (Romans 1:3-4). St. Peter acknowledged Jesus as “the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16) and St. Thomas as ‘My Lord and my God” (John 20:28) both affirming the divinity of Jesus. Though Adam was also a son of God directly created by Him, Jesus was far different from Adam. Nicaean creed states: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.”

2. The Son of Adam

Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus also as the son of Adam (Luke 3:38). This title emphasizes the humanity of Jesus as an outcome of the Adamic Covenant: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel.” (Genesis 3:15). Thus the promised son of Adam was to be born of a woman who would strike the head of the serpent. 

3. The Son of Man

This usage is taken in different senses. The incarnation as son of a human being, the suffering of the Messiah like a human (Mathew 12:40, 17:22, 20:18-19,28), the supernatural nature of Jesus (John 1:51) and his second coming in glory (Daniel 7:13). Jesus preferred to use “son of man” for himself out of his humility.

4. The Son of Abraham

The genealogy of Matthew traces back Jesus as the son of Abraham (Matthew 1:1). This shows the relationship of the Messiah to the Abrahamic Covenant. Jesus was circumcised on the  eighth day following this covenant. Jesus was the fulfillment of Abraham’s words to his son Isaac: “My son, God will provide the sheep for the burnt offering.” (Genesis 22:8). Though God saved Isaac’s life replacing a ram, the real replacement took place with Jesus, the lamb of God, who was sacrificed on the same mountain. All the three promises God made to Abraham were fulfilled in Israel and continued to fulfill in Jesus. Through Jesus also, God selected descendants of faith, promised a perfect dwelling place for the faithful, and a blessing to all nations through the faithful.

5. The Son of David

Luke gives the genealogy of Mary tracing back to King David, where he states that Jesus’ legal father was also from the lineage of David as a fulfilment of the Davidic Covenant. Mathew starts his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus stating him also as son of David (Matthew 1:1). The emphasis here is on the royalty or kingship of Jesus and as the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. God promised to David: “when your days have been completed and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, sprung from your loins, and I will establish his kingdom. He it is who shall build a house for my name, and I will establish his royal throne forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-13). Though the promise was partially fulfilled in David’s son Solomon who built the Temple, the promise came to its completion only in Jesus who established the universal kingdom and rules it forever. Jesus was a direct descendant of David through Mary and his adopted father Joseph as per the genealogy of Luke and Matthew. Because of this, Jesus has another title, the Son of David.

6. The Son of Mary

Jesus was also told as son of Mary (Mark 6:3) emphasizing his human origin from Mary. His humanity came only from Mary who was also from Davidic line according to the genealogy given by Luke. Jesus had the royal blood of King David through his son Nathan and his descendants.

7. The Son of Joseph

Jesus was also considered as son of Joseph (Matthew 13:55, John 6:42). Though Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus, Joseph was his adopted or legal father from Davidic line. The genealogy of Jesus that Matthew presents traces back Joseph to Solomon, the son of David.

In answer to Jesus’ question, the Pharisees answered that the Messiah must be the Son of David. That was a popular expectation of the public regarding Messiah. That is clear from the fact that many people addressed Jesus as the son of David.  Some examples are the crowds who doubted the Messiahship of Jesus (Matthew 12:23), the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:22), the crowds that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem shouting hosanna (Matthew 21:9), and Bartimaeus who was a blind beggar (Mark 10:48). Though Pharisees’ answer was correct, Jesus challenged their response to prove that Messiah was more than a descendant of David.

JESUS, THE BRIDEGROOM

Jesus had established a new covenant with his apostles at the last supper. It was like a wedding betrothal of the Jews. Jesus the groom had made the betrothal with his bride the church through the apostles who were the pillars of the church. According to the Jewish wedding custom, groom or his father had to pay a dowry (mohar) to the bride’s family. For example, before the wedding of Isaac, Abraham’s servant “brought out objects of silver and gold and clothing and presented them to Rebekah; he also gave costly presents to her brother and mother.” (Genesis 24:53). Jacob labored for Laban seven years each, to marry his daughters Leah and Rachel (Genesis 29:15-30). The dowry that Jesus paid was the sacrifice of his life as ransom for the redemption of his followers (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45). Once the engagement was made, the groom would depart to his father’s house and prepare a space there for the couple. Then at an unexpected day, the groom would come to receive the bride who would be eagerly waiting for the return of her husband for the marital union. Likewise, Jesus was bidding farewell to his dearly beloved church promising that he would prepare a place for them in the Father’s mansion for their full communion with him.

JESUS, THE LIGHT

God is the source of all light. Light was there even before the creation of the sun, moon, and stars that were formed only on the fourth day. Jesus who proceeds from the Father said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12).

JESUS, THE NEW TEMPLE

During the Old Testament time, the Temple was the dwelling place of God among the people.  (Exodus 25:8). God’s presence was in the Holy of Holies where the ark of the Covenant was kept. The stone tablets of the Ten Commandments, the manna in a gold jar and Aaron's staff that had budded were kept inside the ark. Prophet Jeremiah had removed the tent, the ark, and the altar of incense to a cave and sealed its entrance before the destruction of the first Temple by the Babylonians under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar (2 Maccabees 2:5). When the Temple was rebuilt under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah after the Babylonian exile, and later when it was reconstructed by King Herod the Great, the sacred contents of the ark were missing. So also, the shekinah glory was also absent in the Holy of Holies. The word shekinah meant “that which dwells” and designated the divine presence (Exodus 25:8) manifested through the light on the mercy-seat of the Ark of the Covenant kept in the Holy of Holies.

Jesus had a divine as well as human nature. He was the perfect dwelling of God among the people. He was the Word that became flesh and communicated with people just as God spoke to the forefathers, prophets and famous leaders of Israel. At the baptism of Jesus, the heavens were torn open, the Spirit descended upon him like a dove, and voice of the Father from the heavens confirming Jesus as His Son was heard (Mark 1:10-11). These were manifestation of God’s glory on earth. At the transfiguration of Jesus, Moses and Elijah appeared beside Jesus, the shekinah cloud came back, and the voice of the Father confirming the Sonship of Jesus was heard (Mark 9:2-8). Jesus performed many miracles that were also manifestation of God’s glory. Jesus gave his own body and blood as the new manna for the nourishment and survival of our spiritual life (John 6:31-35). While the most important contents were missing in the last Temple, Jesus was their replacement and hence was far superior to the Temple of Jerusalem.

JESUS, THE TRUTH

Jesus said of his Father: “He who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him." (John 8:26). So, what Jesus taught is the truth. Jesus affirmed of himself saying: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Thus, Jesus and his Father are true and conveyed the truth to us.

JESUS’ DEATH, EXTRAORDINARY EVENTS

Some unusual events were reported at the time of crucifixion of Jesus:

1. Solar eclipse happened for three hours with darkness felt from noon to 3:00 P.M (Mark 15:33, Luke 23:14). This was the fulfillment of Amos 8:9, “On that day - oracle of the Lord GOD - I will make the sun set at midday and in broad daylight cover the land with darkness.”

2. The veil in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom (Matthew 27: 51). According to the design of God, two veils were there in the tabernacle and later in the Temple. The outer veil was at the entrance of the Holy Place and the inner one in front of the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:31–36). Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies and that only on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:1–18). The meaning of the sanctuary veil torn in two is that by the self-sacrifice of Jesus who is the perfect High Priest, the heaven (Holy of Holies) is open for all who follow Jesus.

3. There was earthquake and splitting of rocks. “Tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matthew 27:52-53). All these were indicative of the coming of the final or Messianic age.

The last words of Jesus were, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). Only a person in communion with God could say that. Let this be our wish that at the last moment of our life we could say the same words.

JESUS’ GARMENT

The criminal to be crucified was led to execution in the middle of a square of four soldiers. Since criminals were crucified naked except for a loin of cloth, the four soldiers divided the garments of the criminals. There were five articles of clothing worn by a Jew: shoes, turban, girdle, inner garment and outer cloak. “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down.” (John 19:23). Only the high priest was using such a garment woven in one piece. Dress of Jesus was believed to be woven by his mother and gave him when he started his public ministry. She made it like the dress of a high priest because she knew that he was the high priest going to offer sacrifice for the atonement of the sins of the world. The soldiers did not tear it but cast lots for it. This was the fulfillment of Psalm 22: 19, “they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots.”

JESUS, PARALLALIM OF BIRTH AND DEATH OF

The birth and burial of Jesus were in caves. He had no house to be born or to die. The public and Jewish authorities rejected Jesus at his birth and death. Mary wrapped him in swaddling clothes at his birth. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped him in a burial cloth during his entombment. His mother Mary had hardships at his birth and death.

JESUS, FED BY OTHERS

During the public ministry, Jesus and his disciples were fully occupied in the preaching that they were fed and sheltered by others. “Afterward he journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.” (Luke 8:1-3).

JESUS, GENEOLOGY

Matthew and Luke give the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew starts his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus tracing back to David, the famous king of the Israel and to Abraham, the father of faith (Matthew 1:1-17). God had made covenant with both and had made promise of a savior of the world from their lineage. So, Matthew’s pre-history of Jesus goes back to Abraham tracing back from the lineage of Joseph the foster (legal) father of Jesus. Luke gives a genealogy of Jesus through his mother Mary (Luke 3:23-38). Here the genealogy of Jesus goes back through King David to Adam, the son God. The first covenant of God with humanity was through Adam. God had promised a savior after the fall of the first parents (Genesis 3:15).

Though St. Joseph was financially poor, he had royal blood as a descendant of King David, and he was married to Mary who also had the same lineage. God had promised to King David: “I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.” (2 Samuel 7:12). Genealogy of the descendants of David were preserved to make sure that the Kings of Jews and the Messiah were from this lineage. Gospels of Mathew (1:1-17) and Luke (3:23-38) give the genealogy of Jesus. Luke presents Mary’s genealogy to prove that Jesus was biologically the son of David and Mathew presents Joseph’s genealogy to prove that the legal or adopted father of Jesus was also a son of David. According to Jewish tradition, adopted as well as biological sons could have hereditary rights. Jesus, his mother Mary, and legal father Joseph were all born in Bethlehem, the City and birthplace of David.

Joseph, the nominal father of Jesus, was a descendant of David’s son Solomon. Mary was a descendant of King David’s son Nathan. So, we have two genealogical accounts of Jesus through the ancestral lines of Joseph by Matthew and of Mary by Luke. These show that Jesus is the “Son of David” from both by blood (Mary) and by right (Joseph).

JESUS AND ELIJAH

Jesus resembled Elijah in raising the son of a widow in Zarephath (1King 17:17-24). Jesus performed more raising from the death than Elijah. Jesus raised daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:22-43), a widow’s son in the town of Nain (Luke 7:11-15), and Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Elijah multiplied a jar of flour and a jug of oil belonging to the widow in Zarephath for a long time so that the prophet, the widow and her household had enough to eat until the draught was over.  (1 Kings 17:7-16). Jesus multiplied loaves of bread twice to feed big multitude of people who came to listen to him. So, people considered Jesus as a miracle worker like Elijah.

Unlike Jesus, Elijah was taken up to heaven without facing death. Malachi had prophesied that Elijah would reappear as a forerunner of the Messiah.  “Now I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, before the day of the LORD comes, the great and terrible day.” (Malachi 3:23 / 4:5). Jews have been expecting the reappearance of Elijah and that is still a part of the Passover ritual of the Jews. Though John the Baptist came according to this prophesy, some still believed that Jesus was the forerunner for the Messiah to come because Jesus resembled some of the actions of Elijah.

JESUS AND JEREMIAH

Jeremiah, one of four Major Prophets, along with Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel has been considered as a type of Jesus. The situation of Israel or Jews during the ministry of both Jeremiah and Jesus were similar and so their preaching and actions also has some resemblance. The following are some of the similarities of Jeremiah and Jesus:

Both did not marry, and they were rejected by the people of their hometowns.

Jeremiah and Jesus were forcibly taken to Egypt because of political persecution of the time.

False prophets and religious leaders were misguiding God’s chosen people. So, both Jeremiah and Jesus spoke against them and thus became their enemies. Both were arrested and persecuted for that reason.

Jeremiah was known as the weeping prophet. Jesus also wept at least three times: At the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35), while prophesying the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41) and at the Garden of Gethsemane (Hebrews 5: 7).

Both wept over the City of Jerusalem and predicted the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. It happened for the first and the last temple as prophesied. During the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar II destroyed Solomon’s Temple in 586 (587) B.C. when Jeremiah was live. The Romans under the leadership of Titus destroyed the second Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., 40 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Though both Jeremiah and Jesus had many similarities, there were also differences. There was a belief that Jeremiah would come as a forerunner of Messiah (2 Esdras 2:18). Before the destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem by Babylonians, Jeremiah removed the tent, the ark, and the altar of incense from the temple, hid and sealed them in a chamber of the cave where God had appeared to Moses (2 Maccabees 2:4-5). When some of those who helped the prophet for the transportation tried to mark the path, Jeremiah scolded them saying: “The place is to remain unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows them mercy. Then the Lord will disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord and the cloud will be seen, just as they appeared in the time of Moses and of Solomon when he prayed that the place might be greatly sanctified.” (2 Maccabees 2: 7-8). So, some people who had seen Jesus believed that Jesus was this precursor of the Messiah.

JESUS AND JOHN THE BAPTIST

Some say, John and Jesus had facial similarity because they were cousins and were only six months in age difference. More than that, their message was similar because both preached for repentance in preparation for the Kingdom of God. Both baptized people at River Jordan and both had disciples. Some disciples of John continued as disciples of Jesus. Both criticized the religious leaders of the time and got opposition from them. Their lives were in danger. Unlike Jesus, John did not perform any miracle and lived a Nasserite lifestyle. However, their resemblance was so close that Herod Antipas, the tetrarch who beheaded John said of Jesus to his servants, “This man is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why mighty powers are at work in him.” (Matthew 14:2).

JESUS, IN THE NAME OF

Name of Jesus is most used in prayers and baptism. We start prayers in the name of the Most Holy Trinity by saying, “In the name of the Father, the son and the Holy Spirit.” We usually conclude a Christian prayer by saying, “We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Lord” because Jesus taught us to pray in his name. “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13). 

According to the instruction of Jesus, (Matthew 28:19) every person is baptized in the Trinitarian formula by saying “In the name of the …” Apostles did the healing or miracles in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:10; 16:18). Thus, prayer and baptism were done in the name of Jesus in the early church and it continues.

JESUS, NAME OF

Jesus is Joshua in Hebrew, and Joshua means “Yahweh is salvation.” Joshua was the successor of Moses who led the Israelites to Canaan, the Promised Land. Joshua was only a representative of God in waging and winning the war against the Canaanites who were bigger and stronger than them.

Jesus is the new Joshua who waged war against Satan, became victorious, and led his people to the new Promised Land, heaven. He is also Emmanuel, as Isaiah had prophesied, God who dwelt among us in human flesh. God, through Angel Gabriel, asked Joseph and Mary to name the child Jesus because “he will save his people from their sins." (Mathew 1:21). Thus, the name Jesus expressed his special mission in this world. It was Joseph who named Jesus according to the revelation he received from the Angel of the Lord in his dream (Mathew 1:21). Thus, Joseph accepted Jesus to his family and acknowledged him as his legal son.

Though Prophet Isaiah said in 7:14 that Jesus shall be named Emmanuel, Jesus was never called by that name. Again, in Isaiah 9:5 we read, “They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” These including “Emmanuel” were given not as literal names but as the title that specifies the nature of the Messiah.

Jesus (Joshua) was a popular name used for many Jews. To distinguish from others with the same name, people used to refer the name of the town where a person came from along with the proper name. Jesus spent most of his earthly life at a village called Nazareth in Galilee. So, he was also known as Jesus of Nazareth. Philip had introduced Jesus to Nathaniel calling him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” (John 1:45). Since Jesus became popular among the public with that name, the people who answered to the blind man said “Jesus of Nazareth” was coming by.

Though Isaiah said in 7:14 that Emmanuel would be the Messiah’s name, people did not call him by that name. Again, in Isaiah 9:6 we read, “He will be named Wonder-Counsellor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” These, including “Emmanuel,” are not literal names but are titles that specify the nature of the Messiah.

JESUS, PASSION

The sequence of events during the Passion of Christ according to the gospels is as follows:

1.  The Agony in the Garden

2.  The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus

3.  The Inquiry before Annas

4.  Peter’s Denial of Jesus

5.  Jesus Before the Sanhedrin

6.  Jesus Before Pilate

7.  Jesus Before Herod

8.  The Death of Judas

9.  The Sentence of Death

10. Mockery by the Soldiers

11. The Way of the Cross

12. The Crucifixion

13. The Death of Jesus

14. The Burial of Jesus

JESUS IN NAZARETH

Jesus lived in Nazareth with his parents for around 27 years. Selection of Nazareth which was not at all popular and not mentioned in the Old Testament was another sign of humility of Jesus. When Philip introduced Jesus of Nazareth to Nathaniel, he asked Philip, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46). The only good that came out of Nazareth was that Jesus was known as Jesus of Nazareth or the Nazarene. The inscription that Pilate placed on the cross of Jesus read: “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.”

Before coming to his hometown Nazareth, Jesus preached for a year in Galilee that included Nazareth. But he did not enter there because he knew that he would be rejected by his own countrymen. Instead, he moved to Capernaum and returned later in the synagogue of Nazareth where he was rejected, and the outraged people tried to kill him by throwing him off a hill (Luke 4:29).

JESUS, THE PASSOVER LAMB

Passover feast involved selection of a sacrificial lamb, free from all blemish on the tenth day of Nisan. Jesus was the perfect “lamb” free from sin that God selected to offer as sacrifice for the atonement of all humanity on the 10th of Nisan which according to Christian calendar was Sunday, April 2nd. This lamb could be sacrificed only in Jerusalem and that should be on the 14th of Nisan that was on Thursday, April 6 from sunset to April 7th sunset. Jesus was crucified on Friday, April 7th.

The last supper of Jesus was a Jewish Passover Meal that was a remembrance of the deliverance of the Israelites from the slavery of Egyptians. It was also a recollection of slaying a lamb and marking the door posts of their houses with the blood of the lamb, so their first-born children were saved from the final plague of death. Jesus was getting ready to replace the blood of the lamb with his own blood and mark it on the cross instead of the door posts so that his first-born children in faith would be saved from the eternal death.

JESUS, SECOND COMING

Jesus assured his disciples: “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:3). He spoke of the glorious return to reestablish the kingdom in its fullness: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Mathew 25:31-32).

JESUS, TIME OF CRUCIFIXION

The Synoptic gospels followed the Jewish calculation of time; whereas John followed the Roman time that we also follow in the modern times. According to the modern timing, Jesus was taken to the high priest’s palace before 3:00 A.M. when the “cock crow.” (Mark 13:35). According to scholars, “cock crow” was the usage for an official siren at 3:00 A.M. for shift change of soldiers before which Peter denied Jesus three times. Rearing cock within Jerusalem was not permitted. Annas, Caiaphas and Sanhedrin finished questioning Jesus before 6:00 A.M. and presented to Pilate. Trial before Pilate and Herod, mocking by soldiers, and way to Calvary were finished by 9:00 A.M. Jesus was crucified around 9:00 A.M. and was on the cross for six hours from 9:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. The darkness was felt for three hours from noon to 3:00 P.M.

The Passover lambs were sacrificed from 3:00 P.M. to 5:00 P.M. in the Temple on the previous day of Jesus’ crucifixion (Mark 14:12, Luke 22:7). Jews had to take home the sacrificed Passover lamb from the Temple to celebrate the Passover meal. The time of crucifixion and death correspond to the daily Perpetual Sacrifice (Tamid) in the Temple at 9:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M. Along with an unblemished male lamb they used to offer flour and wine (Exodus 29:38-39, Numbers 28:1-8). This would represent the bread and wine we offer for Holy Mass which becomes the “Lamb of God”. During the Tamid sacrifice, people used to pray for redemption from their sins. So, timing of Jesus sacrifice, its beginning and end at 9:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M., coincided with the Perpetual Temple sacrifice for the redemption of sins. The sacrifice of Jesus replaced the Tamid sacrifice in the Temple, especially with the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.

JESUS, PREHISTORY

Just as Abraham, the Father of all the faithful, has a prehistory described in Genesis chapters 1-11, Jesus the savior of all people, also has a prehistory that is given in the New Testament more by Luke than by any other Evangelists. This includes:

(1) Announcement of the birth of John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25)

(2) Announcement of the Birth of Jesus Christ (Luke 1:26-38)

(3) Mary Visiting Elizabeth (Luke1:39-45)

(4) The Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-56)

(5) The birth of John (Luke 1:57-66)

(6) The Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1: 67-80).

JESUS, TRAIL BY SANHEDRIN

According to the Jewish law and traditions, there were many violations in the trial of Jesus.

(1) Trial at night was illegal: The Jewish trial of Jesus was illegitimately done at night in front of the high priests and probably their favorite members of the Sanhedrin. Caiaphas was the official high priest during the trial of Jesus. Annas, who was the former high priest and father-in-law of Caiaphas, was the president of Sanhedrin. Though Sanhedrin was not supposed to meet at night, the high priests went out of the way to meet the Sanhedrin at night because they were in a hurry to crucify Jesus.

(2) The location of the trail was wrong: The Sanhedrin met for the trial of Jesus at the high priest’s house (Matthew 26:58), instead of one of the chambers of the inner court of the Temple. The death sentence had to be passed near the altar to assure that justice was assured, and the decision was acceptable to God.

(3) The Sanhedrin was prejudiced and had only false witnesses: Most members of the Sanhedrin had in mind capital punishment for Jesus before the trial. They were struggling to get enough proof for their false accusations against Jesus. They were unsuccessful in getting two witnesses that would agree in testimony. When the false witnesses failed, “’the high priest asked him and said to him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One?’ Then Jesus answered, ‘I am; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’” (Mark 14:61-62). Only based on this statement of Jesus, the Sanhedrin accused blasphemy on Jesus. Such questioning of the culprit in the Sanhedrin was illegal.

(4) Crucifixion was not the punishment for blasphemy: The regular punishment for blasphemy was death by stoning (Leviticus 24:10-16). However, the Sanhedrin wanted the most painful crucifixion for Jesus. This was to fulfill the Old Testament symbol of bronze serpent raised on a pole for saving sinners’ lives and to fulfill Jesus’ prophecy that he would be exalted (John 3:14, 12:32–33). Hence, the judgment of crucifixion was false even if Jesus was guilty of blasphemy.

(5) Enough time was not taken for the judgment: A death sentence could not be pronounced within one day. The Sanhedrin was supposed to sleep over it one night and reconsider the decision before the sentence was finalized. This did not happen in Jesus’s case.

So, the time, place, procedure of the trial, and the punishment they wanted were all illegal. The hatred and prejudice can lead us to unjust decisions and judgment against others in the family or in the community. Like Jesus who came not to judge but to save, let us be saviors of others who are in trouble. The second coming of Christ will be only for judgment and reward for the righteous.

JESUS, WASHING THE FEET

People in the past were walking on dirty or dusty roads with sandals on their feet. So, they had to wash their feet before entering a house. Usually a slave, servant, or host (Luke 7:44) would wash the feet of the guest. This might have been missed when Jesus and the apostles gathered for the Passover because they had no host or servant. None of the apostles wanted to be at the service of others, not even to wash the feet of their Lord. So, they might have started the supper without the ceremonial washing of feet. Jesus might have noticed it and delayed it to teach them a lesson by making himself a humble servant of his disciples. According to Jewish practice, there was no practice of washing the feet during the Passover celebration.

JESUS, THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE

I am the way

In answer to the enquiry of Thomas, Jesus made clear that he was the one and only way to the Father. During the Old Testament times, Joshua (Jesus in Greek) led the chosen people to the promised land through River Jordan. Jesus is the new Joshua who leads us to the new promised land of the lost paradise through his baptism that stands for Jordan river. The cross of Jesus is the bridge that Jesus established to connect the earth with heaven. Jesus exhorted us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mathew 16:24)

I am the truth

The ultimate truth is God. Jesus is the truth because he is God. Humans have limitations to understand the truths of God and his creation. Scientists and philosophers share their findings, assumptions and views. Our lack of understanding and limitations of knowledge cause many misunderstanding and conflicts in the world. Jesus taught us the truth of God that we comprehend with our limited capacity. Love of God and love of humanity in action are the core teachings of Jesus for successful transition from this world to the eternal truth in heaven.

I am the life

God is the author of all universe and all living beings. God who created everything with his Word, let the Word become flesh and thus Jesus came as God and man. So, Jesus is life eternal who gives us everlasting life by rescuing us from the death that came because of the fall of first parents. Through his resurrection, Jesus assured our resurrection from death.

“The doubting Thomas” was instrumental in the revelation of Jesus’ statement that he is the way, the truth and the life. Another contribution of Thomas was his own statement when he saw the Risen Lord, “My Lord and My God.” (John 20:28). That was his profession of faith that Jesus the Lord was God himself.

JESUS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

Jesus made use of the occasion of the Feast of the Tabernacles to teach people that he was the light of the world. During the feast, the temple courtyard was illuminated with four large golden menorahs having seven torches each. These 28 big torches shed light to a wide area and was visible from all around the city as a “pillar of fire”. Light from the four menorahs in the temple reminded the people of the presence and guidance of God in the form of pillar of fire at night in the wilderness. Jesus said at this occasion that he is the light (not a light) of the world (not just in Jerusalem or for the Jews but for all people all over the world). Thus, Jesus replaced the four menorahs that illuminated the Holy place of the temple. Only one sun is necessary to illumine the world. So also, Jesus is the only source of spiritual light.

JOACHIM AND ANNE

Mary’s father Joachim was from Nazareth in Galilee and her mother Anne was from Bethlehem. They were childless and God opened the womb of Anne in her old age to give an extraordinary child as it happened to Sarah, wife of Abraham in the Book of Genesis. Joachim and Anne had promised to God that they would entrust their child to the temple for the service of the Lord. So, they brought Mary, at the age of three, to Jerusalem to offer her as promised by them before her birth. While Mary grew up in the temple, her aged parents died. A girl could not continue in the temple from her puberty. So, between the age of 12 and 14, the priests of the temple betrothed her to Joseph who was divinely selected to marry her. Joseph, originally from Bethlehem, had moved to Nazareth for job because he was a construction worker. Joseph took Mary from Jerusalem to Nazareth.

JOHN THE BATPTIST AND JESUS

See JESUS AND JOHN THE BAPTIST

JOHN THE BAPTIST, ARREST BY KING HEROD ANTIPAS

King Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea had imprisoned John.  Herod Antipas was one of the sons of King Herod the Great who had ruled all over Judea and surrounding regions at the time of Jesus’ birth. After the death of Herod the Great, his kingdom was divided and ruled by his sons. Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee. He had arrested John the Baptist because he questioned Herod’s immoral behavior of taking his brother Philip’s wife Herodias as his own and for other evil’s Herod had done (Luke 3:19-20). Mark states that “Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so.” (Mark 6:19). According to the historian Josephus, Herod was afraid of the popularity of John and his influence on the crowds. Herod feared that John could ignite a rebellion against the king with John’s appeal to the crowd. So, he wanted to silence John by putting him in prison and did not intent to execute him for fear of agitation from the people if he would kill the prophet. Mark also states that Herod considered John as “a righteous and holy man” and “When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.” (Mark 6:20).

JOHN THE BAPTIST, DRESS LIKE ELIJAH

John the Baptist dressed like a prophet, especially like Elijah, to reveal to his listeners he was the expected Elijah heralding the Messiah. The Bible describes Elijah’s dress: “He wore a hairy garment with a leather belt around his waist” (2 Kgs 1:8). Malachi had prophesied John’s arrival as Elijah four centuries before John’s birth. “Now I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, before the day of the LORD comes” (Mal 3:23-24; 4:5-6). Angel Gabriel had revealed to Zachariah about John: “He himself will open the way to the Lord with the spirit and power of the Prophet Elijah; he will reconcile fathers and children, and lead the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, in order to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Lk 1:17). Jesus also witnessed that John was the expected second coming of Elijah. “Elijah has come, and they did not recognize him, but treated him as they pleased” (Mt 17:12).

JOHN THE BAPTIST, FOOD LOCUST AND WILD HONEY

Locusts were clean and permitted food for Israelites (Lev 11:22). They were poor people’s food. Wild honey came from the nectar of wildflowers. People gathered wild honey from the hollows of trees or rocks. That was the food of wanderers in the wilderness. John’s dependence on locusts and wild honey was a sign that John was living like an Essene. Besides revealing the simple food menu of John, Angel Gabriel had revealed that John would abstain from alcohol: “he shall never drink wine or strong drink” (Lk 1:15).

JOHN THE BAPTIST’S PARENTS

Jesus’ mother and foster father were from King David’s royal family. John the Baptist’s parents were from the priestly clan of Aaron. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the Levite priests were careful to marry within the tribe to keep the dignity of their priesthood. Though Mary and Elizabeth were relatives, both belonged to different tribes of Israel because intertribal marriages occurred between the elite tribes of Judah and Levi.

In the sight of their contemporaries, the childlessness of Zechariah and Elizabeth was God’s punishment. According to the belief of the time, though Zechariah and Elizabeth appeared pious, they were not justifiable before God. However, the Word of God testifies that both were righteous in God’s eyes. They “lived blamelessly in accordance with all the laws and commands of the Lord” (v. 6).

Despite Zechariah and Elizabeth’s faithfulness to God, they did not get any answer to their prayers for a child in time. Elizabeth was barren and advanced in age. So, it was well nigh impossible for them to have a child when the angel appeared to Zachariah.

Some prominent persons in the salvation history were born late to their parents when it was naturally impossible. Some examples are Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Samson, and Samuel. According to the Proto-Evangelium of Saint James, Mary the mother of Jesus was also the child of her parents Joachim and Anne’s old age.

JOHN THE BAPTIST, WHY HE LIVED IN DESERT?

Tradition says John’s parents took him at an early age from their little town in the hill country of Judea (Lk 1:39) to the Judean desert to save his life soon after King Herod ordered to kill all male children under two years of age. The elderly parents died when John was young, and the Essenes community in the Judean desert brought him up. The Essenes were a group of priests who disagreed with the corrupt priests of the Temple and moved from Jerusalem to the wilderness. Their goal was to prepare for the way of the Lord and to concentrate on the study of the Holy Scripture. They were active for about 200 years by the time Jesus started his public ministry. This group might have trained John, though there is no evidence for it.

John the Baptist knew Jesus through his parents because Jesus and John were second cousins. John’s parents might have told him of the divine intervention at the birth of himself and Jesus. However, John did not know what Jesus was until he saw the divine intervention when he baptized Jesus. That made him recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

Some scholars believe that when John was young, his parents fled with him to the Judean Desert to save his life from King Herod the Great’s order to kill all male children two years or younger.  Herod’s target was the infant Jesus, and so the Holy Family fled to Egypt at the same time. John’s aged parents died within a few years. So, John continued to live in the wilderness under the care of the Essenes community.

The Essenes were a group of priests who disagreed with the corrupt priests in the Temple and left Jerusalem. They moved to the Judean Desert that lies east of Jerusalem and goes down to the Dead Sea. These faithful priests lived in the caves preparing for the Messiah and concentrated on the study and reflection of the Holy Scripture. They preserved the Qumran scrolls discovered from 1946 to 1956. Essenes were active during the public ministry of Jesus for about 200 years from second century BC to the end of the first century AD (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Essene). They might have trained and influenced John, which is clear from John’s lifestyle.

JOHN, THE APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST

John was known as the Beloved Disciple because of his close relationship with Jesus. Jesus selected him to be the caretaker of his mother Mary, while Jesus was on the cross. John wrote the fourth gospel, three epistles and the Book of Revelation. His ministry was in Asia Minor and he took good care of Mother Mary in Ephesus. While preaching in Ephesus, John was taken to Rome for trial. He was sentenced to death in boiled oil. He was miraculously saved and so the emperor nullified his death sentence. He was expelled to the island of Patmos under Domitian, where he had a vision and wrote the book of Revelation. After the death of Domitian, John was freed to Ephesus where he served the churches in Asia Minor until his death around 100 A.D. when he was 88 years old. He was the only apostle who died of natural causes.

JOSEPH, FOSTER FATHER OF JESUS

The background story of Joseph and Mary is given in the apocryphal writings like the Protoevangelium of James and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew. These writings are not officially approved canonical books. So, they may be true or myth. However, they help us to connect the gaps in the life story of Jesus.

According to these writings, Joachim and Anne were childless for a long time. Joachim was rich and used to offer double offering in the Temple. Being childless was considered a shame and lack of blessing from God because the lineage of the family could not be continued to the next generation through children. According to the old concept, one’s life continues after death through his children and the fame of his good works.

Joachim was discouraged for being childless, by people and his own study of the Scriptures. He went to desert and lived in a tent fasting for 40 days seeking God’s mercy to have a child as it happened for Abraham at his old age. Anne also prayed in the garden under a tree seeking God’s intervention for a child as He gave to Sarah. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to Anne and informed her that she would have a child who “will be spoken of everywhere people live”. Anne said, “As the Lord God lives, whether I give birth to either a male or a female child, I will bring it as an offering to the Lord my God and it will be a servant to him all the days of its life”. Angel also informed Joachim the same news. Anne gave birth to a baby girl whom they named Mary.

When Mary was three years of age, her parents presented her in the Temple to be dedicated to God’s service as Anne had promised. She was brought up in the Temple under the training of Zachariah. She was educated there in religion and scripture. Mary had made a vow of lifelong virginity by herself. When she was turned 12 (15), she could not be continued in the Temple. Children were not allowed to remain in the Temple from puberty so that they won’t defile the sanctuary of the Lord. Mary’s parents might have died by that time. So, she was to be entrusted to a reliable person who would marry her while keeping her virginity.

According to the apocrypha, when Joseph was 40 years old, he married Salome (Melcha or Escha). They lived 49 years together and had four sons and two daughters. The youngest was James the Less, also known as “the Lord’s brother.” This story helps us to understand the connection of ever Virgin Mary and the brothers and sisters of Jesus in the gospel (Mark 6:3), (Mathew 13:55-56). “A year after his wife's death, as the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Judah a respectable man to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age. Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph, and two years later the Annunciation took place.” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08504a.htm).

While the high priest was praying for a way to find a guardian for Mary, an angel of the Lord appeared and told him to gather the widowers in the area and let them bring a staff to the Temple. All the widowers, including Joseph, gave their rod to the High Priest who took them to the temple and prayed. When he returned the staff, a dove came out of the Joseph’s rod and stood on his head. Another version of this story is that Joseph’s staff bloomed into flowers and a dove descended from heaven and landed on it. It was a divine revelation that Joseph was to take Mary as his spouse. This is the reason for the artists to depict a wooden stick with blooming flowers on the pictures and statues of St. Joseph. This legend is an imitation of an event described in Numbers 17:16-26. Israelites were grumbling against Moses for having Aaron as the high priest. God instructed Moses to ask the leaders of the 12 tribes to bring their staff along with the staff of Aaron to the Tent of God. The next day only Aaron’s staff flowered and produced almond fruits proving Aaron as the God’s selected high priest. 

The aged Joseph had a vow of chastity after he became a widower and Mary had a vow of virginity. She was married to Joseph not to bear children but as a protector of her life and virginity with a covenantal relationship. However, God called him also to be the foster father of the redeemer.

Joseph became the father of Jesus not by adoption but by his marriage to Mary, the mother of Jesus. But unlike other stepsons, Jesus had no human father. That made Joseph’s relationship with Jesus more intimate. Besides, Joseph knew that he was protecting and nurturing the God incarnate who created him and had been protecting him. 

JOSEPH, COMPARISON OF OT AND NT

Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob in the Old Testament and Joseph, the husband of Mary in the New Testament have some similarities.

Both Josephs were from the lineage of Abraham, the father of faith.

Joseph of the Old Testament was the favorite son of Jacob, his father. Joseph, the husband of Mary was the favorite son of God

Both Josephs were dreamers.

Both Josephs were chaste and righteous men. The Bible presents his moral integrity in Genesis chapter 39, where he overcame sexual seduction from Potiphar’s wife even though he knew that she would give him misery for not yielding to her.

Both had occasion to put their family to shame but did not. Joseph of the Old Testament could take revenge on his brothers, or at least put them to public shame when they came in front of him in Egypt searching for food. Instead, he treated them well and consoled them, “You intended to do me harm, but God intended to turn it to good to bring about what is happening today – the survival of numerous people. So have no fear! I will provide for you and your little ones” (Gen 50:20-21). Joseph in the New Testament is also a favourite son of God the Father. He inherited the holiness and righteousness of his forefathers, especially Joseph of the Old Testament who also wanted to deal honourably with Mary.

Both Josephs protected their family.

JOSEPH’S MARRIAGE

The apocryphal writings present the story of Joseph’s marriage. These writings are non-canonical books. So, they may be true or myth. However, they help us connect the gaps in the Biblical narratives. According to the Apocrypha, when Joseph was 40 years old, he married Salome (Melcha or Escha). They lived together for 49 years and had four sons and two daughters. The youngest was James the Less, also known as “the Lord’s brother.” This story helps us to understand the brothers and sisters of Jesus mentioned in the gospels (Mk 6:3; Mt 13:55-56). “A year after his wife’s death, as the priests announced through Judea that they wished to find in the tribe of Judah a respectable man to espouse Mary, then twelve to fourteen years of age. Joseph, who was at the time ninety years old, went up to Jerusalem among the candidates; a miracle manifested the choice God had made of Joseph, and two years later the Annunciation took place.” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08504a.htm). Joseph’s role, though married to Mary, was to protect her life and her virginity. However, God called him also as the Redeemer’s foster father.

JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA

The Romans had no practice of burying the dead body of the crucified criminals. They would leave the bodies on the ground and let animals and birds eat them. The Jewish law demanded the burial of the body on the same day (Deut. 21:22-23). So, permission was needed from Pilate to bury the body of Jesus. Since Jesus was from Galilee and the disciples were hiding and could not afford to pay a fitting burial within few hours, two secret friends of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus boldly came forward with generous contributions. They were not supporting Jesus in public before, to keep their membership in the Sanhedrin and save their reputation among the Jewish leaders. Oftentimes, we fail to help a person in need when alive. However, the timely contributions of these two people are praiseworthy.

Since the male disciples of Jesus were afraid of the soldiers, they were hiding and could not undertake the burial of Jesus. They also had no money to buy a burial ground and the spices needed for embalming the body of Jesus. Two secret admirers of Jesus emerged to take leadership at the appropriate time.  “Joseph of Arimathea, distinguished member of the council, who was himself awaiting the kingdom of God, came and courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.” (Mark 15:43). Joseph of Arimathea gave his own valuable tomb in which no one was buried before, for the burial of Jesus. That could help to prove the resurrection of Jesus. If any remains of a dead body were found in the tomb after the resurrection of Jesus, that could have made doubts on his resurrection. Joseph and Nicodemus took the body and bound it in linen cloths with the spices according to the Jewish custom and buried in the tomb. All these were done in a hurry because they had to do everything between 3:00 P.M. and 6:00 P.M. on Friday before the start of the Passover Sabbath. “Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed.” (Matthew 27:60).

JUDAS ISCARIOT

Judas is believed to be from Judah near Jericho, whereas the other apostles were from Galilee. Judas was attracted to Jesus who gave him the privileged position to be an apostle. He was even entrusted with the little money Jesus and his disciples received for their sustenance from the well-wishers. St. John reports that “he was a thief and held the money bag and used to steal the contributions.” (12:6). Jesus was aware of what Judas was going to do. During the public ministry Jesus said to the Apostles: “’Did I not choose you twelve? Yet is not one of you a devil?’ He was referring to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot; it was he who would betray him, one of the Twelve.” (John 6:70-71). Even after walking with Jesus, listening to his discourses, and witnessing the miracles he performed for more than three years, Judas could not give his heart to Jesus. Unfortunately, his interest shifted from Jesus to money.

Some people believe that Judas was also a Zealot. He believed that Jesus the Messiah would overthrow the Romans and establish his earthly kingdom. Judas eventually lost his hope in Jesus and sold his master for 30 pieces of silver to his enemies.

The brothers of Joseph had sold him to Midianite merchants who were going to Egypt for 20 shekels of silver. History repeated in the case of Jesus when Judas sold him for 30 pieces of silver which was the price of a slave. When Judas realized that Jesus had been condemned, he regretted deeply on what he had done (Matthew 27:3). He might have also assumed that since his master had escaped from the assassination attempts of enemies before, he might do the same that time also. However, Jesus’s time had arrived. Judas’ attempt to return the money to the chief priests and elders did not help to release Jesus. The Satan that entered Judas did not allow him to turn towards his master for forgiveness. When that hope was failed, he got depressed and hanged himself after his unsuccessful attempt to free the master by returning the money (Matthew 27:3-5). His depression was so deep that he committed suicide. Even the temple authorities found that it was unlawful to deposit the money in the temple treasury. So, they bought a potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners.

Jesus died on the cross, not because of Judas or any of the enemies of Jesus but because he himself surrendered to offer as the lamb of God who took away the sins of all humanity. Jesus made use of them as agents in his sacrifice.

After the resurrection of the Lord, the apostles selected Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot and to maintain the number of the original apostolic college as 12. Matthias was one of the 72 disciples of Jesus. 

JUDAS THADDEUS, THE APOSTLE

Judas was named Thaddeus that means “big hearted” to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus. According to tradition Thaddeus preached in Assyria and Persia and was martyred in Persia. He was also known as Judas the Zealot because of his enthusiasm to see Jesus ruling the world. At the last supper, he asked Jesus: “Master, then what happened that you would reveal yourself to us and not to the world?” (John 14:22). He wanted to publicize Jesus as a ruling king. Judas Thaddeus preached in Edessa and healed Abgar, the king of Edessa. He was clubbed to death at Ararat.

MAGI

The Magi were Medes from the Median tribe that was part of the Persian empire. They had tried to overthrow the Persians and establish the rule of Medes. When that failed, they became a tribe of priests like Levites of Israel. They also served as teachers and advisors of the Persian Kings. Hence, they were men of holiness and wisdom.

Magi were experts in all branches of knowledge. They were also astrologers, fortune tellers, and interpreters of dreams. The Bible does not specify how many wise men came. One tradition is that they were 12. The universal acceptance of there being three has links to the three gifts the Magi gave to Infant Jesus. The legends gave them names: Melchior, Gaspar, and Balthasar.

Matthew does not specify the Magi as kings. Some Old Testament texts predicted the visit of kings with the same gifts that Magi brought (Ps 72:10, 15; Isa 60:6). That led to the interpretation that the Magi were kings. Another interpretation came from Palms 72:11. “All kings bow down to him, and all nations serve him.” According to the Western church tradition, “Balthasar is often represented as a king of Arabia or sometimes Ethiopia, Melchior as a king of Persia, and Gaspar as a king of India” (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Magi).

East of Jerusalem can mean Arabia, Persia, or Mesopotamia. The traditional concept is that Magi came from Persia.

The Magi came to Jerusalem, the capital city of Jews because they assumed that the King of the Jews might be born in that royal city. The star that guided them withdrew for a while, facilitating them to inform the birth of the Messiah to Herod the king of Jews, the priests, and the Jewish scholars. They symbolized the royal, priestly, and prophetic representatives of God. He thus communicated to them the incarnation of His Son as the eternal king, priest, and prophet. However, the narrow minded leaders ignored the important message because it came through the Gentile kings.

MAGI, GIFTS

According to tradition, the Magi were of different ages. Melchior was an old man with grey hair and long beard, who presented gold, acknowledging the kingship of the child. Gaspar (Caspar) was young and beardless who brought frankincense honouring Jesus as God. Balthasar was middle-aged, dark-complexioned with a black beard carrying myrrh, portending his sacrificial death.

The offerings represent the three-fold functions of Jesus. Frankincense is an aromatic that is used in holocaust offerings because animal sacrifices do emit a bad odour. It stood for Jesus, the new High Priest and the Lamb of God who sacrificed his life replacing all the earlier animal sacrifices. People used myrrh in perfuming ointments to anoint the representatives of God: prophets, priests, and king. So, it stood for the prophetic role of Jesus. Ancient people used myrrh for embalming the dead bodies. Thus, it also signified the death and burial of Jesus. The offering of gold, the king of metals, represented the kingship of Jesus, though his kingship differed from that of worldly kings. These three valuable gifts would have stood the Holy family in good stead at a difficult time because of their unexpected stay in Bethlehem and later in Egypt as refugees.

MAGI STORY

A 14th-century cleric John of Hildesheim in his writing Historia Trium Regum (The History of the Three Kings), gives the story of what happened to the Magi: The three wise men, Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar, were kings of “Ind, Chaldea, and Persia.” They travelled non-stop from their own lands, “in great haste.” When they departed Bethlehem after worshipping the Infant Jesus, they continued together until they reached the Hill of Vaws, or Hill of Victory, on the border of Ind. It was here that the star first appeared to the Magi. There was a watchtower there. Before leaving to their own countries, the three kings agreed to meet at that place once a year. They also decided that their burial should be at the Hill of Vaws.

Years later, a star appeared above the cities in which the kings lived just before Christmas, signifying to them they were near death. They gathered at the Hill of Vaws and built a large tomb for them. When they died, the grieving local people buried them in the same tomb.

Queen Saint Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, collected the bodies of the three kings and brought them into the church of Saint Sophia in Constantinople in the Fourth century. At a later period, because of the persecution of Christians, Emperor Mauricius moved the relics to a church in Milan. In the 12th century, Roman Emperor Frederick I rewarded the relics to Archbishop of Cologne Rainald von Dassel for offering him military aid to win a war in Italy against Milan. So, the archbishop moved the relic to Cologne in 1164.

(https://archive.archaeology.org/online/reviews/threekings).

The Church in Cologne keeps the relics now above and behind the high altar of the Catholic Cathedral there. The church venerates Magi as saints. The tradition of exchanging gifts during Christmas season has its origin from the three kings who gave gifts to Infant Jesus.

MARY AND ELIZABETH

Elizabeth came from the lineage of Aaron belonging to the tribe of Levi. Mary was from the family of David, belonging to the tribe of Judah. So, they must be relatives from the maternal side. The tribes of Israel did not intermarry. However, there were marriages between the tribes of Levi and Judah, the priestly and the royal tribes.

Angel Gabriel gave Elizabeth’s unusual pregnancy as a proof for Mary to believe in her virgin motherhood. It was also a hint to assist Elizabeth during her old-age pregnancy. Mary believed the angel’s words and went to serve Elizabeth. Her visit helped fulfil the prophecy of the angel to Zechariah that John “will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (Lk 1:15). That happened when Mary visited Elizabeth.

MARY AND MIRIAM THE SISTER OF MOSES

Miriam is the Hebrew word for Mary. Miriam in the Old Testament was the sister of Moses. Just as Moses is a prototype of Jesus, Miriam is a prototype of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Miriam (Mar Yam) in Hebrew means myrrh, or bitterness of the sea. When Miriam was born, the Israelites had the bitter destiny to throw their children into the River Nile because of Pharaoh’s order. However, when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, Mariam was also known as Mara Yam meaning “Mistress of the Sea.” Miriam was the leader of women when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea while God drowned Pharaoh and his soldiers. According to Saint Ambrose, Mary of the New Testament leads us through the sea of the world to the new Promised Land, heaven.

MARY, AVE

Hail means “Ave” the reversal of the Latin word Eva for Eve. Mary reversed the situation of humanity by her obedience to God. Eve, the mother of all, caused death by her disobedience. Mary, the spiritual mother of all the faithful, brought life to the world. So according to Serarius, “Ave” means life.

MARY, IMMACULATE CONCEPTION / FULL OF GRACE

God created Adam and Eve sinless. Similarly, God allowed the New Adam, Jesus and the New Eve, Mary to be ‘immaculately’ conceived, so that Original Sin did not touch them. Only a non-contaminated container can hold a sterile medicine for treatment. Hence God kept Mary sinless from the moment of her conception so that she could become the new ark of God’s divine presence in her womb. For that reason, the angel greeted Mary, “full of grace.”

MARY, NATIVITY (SEPTEMBER 8)

The church in Constantinople first fixed September 8 as the feast day of the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This date was selected because September 1 was the new year day in Constantinople and the church there wanted to celebrate the birth of Mary close to the new year as the beginning of Christ’s salvific ministry. This feast was introduced in Rome in the seventh century. Based on this date, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary was later fixed on December 8 which is nine months prior to September 8.

MARY, PURIFICATION OF

According to the Mosaic Law, there was a period of ritual uncleanness for a woman who had just delivered. “When a woman conceives and gives birth to a male child, she shall be unclean for seven days as in the days of her monthly periods” (Lev 12:2). Even after completing the seven days of uncleanness, “she shall wait for thirty-three days to be purified of her bleeding. She shall not touch anything that is consecrated nor enter the sanctuary until the days of her purification are completed” (Lev 2:4). If the child was female, the duration of uncleanliness was 14 days and the state of blood purity was an added 66 days. Thus, the period of purification for the mother who gave birth to a male child was 40 days and a female child was 80 days.

According to the Biblical numerology, 40 is symbolic of a period of purification, preparation, or testing. After giving birth, a woman has a discharge known as lochia that might last for four to six weeks. The term lochia derives from the Greek word lokheíos means “of childbirth.” Lochia is a combination of blood, mucus, and uterine tissue coming from the wound that occurred when placenta tore away from the uterine wall. It is a post-delivery healing process. During this time, Jewish religion did not allow women to enter the sanctuary or to touch anything sacred.

On the 40th day after childbirth, the family offered the sacrifice for cleansing at the Nicanor Gate on the east of the Court of Women in the Temple. The women who lived far from the Temple were not obliged to be present in the Temple for the purification ceremony. Since Bethlehem was only six miles south of Jerusalem, Joseph and Mary went to the Temple for the rituals.

MARY, A SWORD WILL PIERCE

Mary would suffer along with her son. She witnessed the suffering and crucifixion of her son, Jesus. While standing at the foot of the cross, Mary saw her son’s heart being pierced. She was aware of the emotional piercing of Jesus’ heart during his public ministry, especially during his trial. Those were equivalent to the emotional piercing of Mother Mary’s heart. Thus what God had said to the serpent was fulfilled: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; they will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel” (Gen 3:15). God called Mary to cooperate with her son to strike the head of the “serpent” who hurt both Jesus and his mother. Simeon reminded Mary of this call she had.

MARY, VIRGINITY OF

According to the apocryphal book, The Gospel of the Nativity of Mary, the blessed mother had made a vow of virginity at the Temple of Jerusalem while living there from the age of three. Hence, she asked Angel Gabriel, how she, a lifelong virgin, could give birth to a child. This was also the fulfilment of another prophecy: “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel” (Isa 7:14). Thus, the virgin birth became a prophetic sign of the Messiah’s arrival. The Catholic Church and some other churches teach the perpetual virginity of Mary.

MARY’S CHILDHOOD

According to non-Biblical books, Mary’s parents Joachim and Anne were childless. God gave them an extraordinary child in their old age, as it happened to Abraham’s wife Sarah. Joachim and Anne had promised to God that they would entrust their child to the Temple for the Lord’s service. So they brought Mary when she was three years old, to the Temple and offered her as they had promised before her birth. While Mary grew up in the Temple, her aged parents died. A girl could not continue in the Temple once she attained puberty. So, between the age of 12 and 15, the priests betrothed her to Joseph, whom God had selected to marry her. So, Joseph took Mary from Jerusalem to Nazareth.

MATTHEW / MATHEW, THE APOSTLE AND EVANGELIST

Matthew, also known as Levi, was son of Alpheus and lived in Capernaum. Levi was Hebrew name and Matthew was his Greek name. James the lesser was also son of Alpheus. So, some people consider that Matthew and James the Less were brothers.

Before following Jesus, Matthew was a tax collector or publican. Publican means someone engaged in public service or in handling public money. Tax collectors were considered as traitors and outcasts by their fellow Jews because they were collecting tax for Romans who were their pagan oppressors. The tax collectors were hated as exploiters because they used to collect unjust amount from the Jews than was necessary to pay to the government. That was why John the Baptist told the tax collectors, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” (Luke 3:13). Jesus selected such a hated “criminal” and made him his apostle.

When Jesus called Levi, he left his profession and enormous wealth to follow Jesus. He used his skills to write the first gospel that was intended for the Jews proving that many prophesies of the Old Testament about the Messiah were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Matthew preached in Egypt and was killed with a spear in Ethiopia in 65 AD.

MONEY CHANGERS

See TEMPLE, MONEY CHANGERS

NATHANEAL

See BARTHOLOMEW / NATHANIEL

NICODEMUS

Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin who visited Jesus at night (John 3:1–21) and supported Jesus in the Sanhedrin (John 7:50–51). He assisted Joseph of Arimathea in burying Jesus and provided “a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds.” (John 19:39). 

PETER, THE APOSTLE

Though not educated, Simon Peter had natural leadership qualities, and Jesus made use of it for his mission. Peter was not afraid of expressing his opinion by raising questions to Jesus. He took initiative as a spokesman for all the apostles. Jesus had used Peter’s house during his ministry in Capernaum. He was the one to openly express Jesus as the Son of the living God. When Simon professed his faith in Jesus at Caesarea Philippi saying “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16), Jesus changed his name Simon meaning "God has heard," to Peter (Rock). According to the Biblical concept, only a person who has authority could change the name of another person. The change of name was also indicative of a change in the identity or mission of the person. Among the apostles, only Peter had that privilege of Jesus changing the name. Jesus gave authority to Peter saying, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19). Despite the warnings Peter had received from Jesus, he denied Jesus three times during the trial of Jesus. However, he had recovered from it through his genuine repentance. He was the head of the college of apostles and thus the first pope. Peter was crucified upside down upon his request that he was unworthy to die in the same manner as his master. His name and activities are recorded in the New Testament more than any other apostle.

PETER, THE NAME MEANING

Jesus changed the name of Simon to Peter. When God gave a new name to a person, it was indicative of a new identity. Petra means rock. Since it is a feminine form, Jesus used Petros a masculine version of rock for Peter. In Isaiah 51:1-2, Abraham, the father of faith, is called as rock. As all the believers of the Old Testament was based of the faith of Abraham, the New Testament period is based on the faith that Peter professed in Jesus. As the foster son of Joseph, a builder, Jesus used the example of rock as the strong foundation for building his church. When Jesus was speaking of Peter as rock, they were standing on the rock base of Mount Hermon.

PHARISEES

Pharisee in Hebrew means “separate” or “detach” because this group had separated themselves from the ordinary people in their strict religious observances. They were against the Hellenistic influence in the Jewish religion. Besides the laws given through Moses, the Pharisees developed their own interpretations and applications of the Law.  They gave importance to the traditional rituals that were not in the Mosaic laws but were handed over by the elders of previous generations claiming that they were also of divine origin. This group originated during the post-exilic times when there was a thirst for maintaining the purity of the Judaism according to the written laws and oral traditions. Though some Pharisees appreciated the teachings of Jesus and invited him for dinner (Luke 7:36-50, 14:1), many of them objected him because Jesus did not strictly follow their man-made rituals and traditions.

PHARISEES AND SADDUCEES

The Pharisees, along with Sadducees, were religious rulers of Jews during the public ministry of Jesus. Both Pharisees and Sadducees were members of the Sanhedrin, the seventy-member supreme court that sentenced Jesus. The Pharisees were also leaders of the synagogues and some of them were priests. Though Sadducees were the majority in the Sanhedrin and held the position of chief priests and high priest, the Pharisees were more influential because they had more popular support and they controlled the synagogues. This was because, unlike Sadducees, the Pharisees did not favor Hellenism and the Roman rule. Sadducees ceased to exist after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.; whereas the Pharisees continued even afterwards and became the founding stone for contemporary Rabbinic Judaism.

PHILIP, THE APOSTLE

Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter (John 1:44) and could be a fisherman. Philip was formerly a disciple of John the Baptist. After John introduced Jesus to his disciples, Jesus found and called Philip to follow him (John 1:43). Philip immediately recognized Jesus as the Messiah. He was enthusiastic to introduce Jesus to Nathanael by telling him: “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets.” (John 1:45). So, from the very beginning of his discipleship, Philip was sharing the good news of Jesus’ ministry to others. Though Philip is not recorded in the Bible as professing faith directly to Jesus like Peter, Nathaniel or Thomas, he was convinced from the very beginning that Jesus was the Messiah.

Philip is assumed to oversee supplies and food for the team of Jesus and his apostles. Before feeding the 5,000 listeners of Jesus by the multiplication of loaves, it was to Philip that Jesus asked, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Philip answered: “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little bit.” (John 6:5-7).

Philip preached in Greece and Turkey and was stoned and crucified at Hierapolis in Persia in 62 AD. He was crucified upside down like St. Peter. His feast is celebrated on May 3rd in the Catholic Church.

PILATE, THE GOVERNOR

Pilate’s tactics to release Jesus

Pilate thought of releasing Jesus as the person to be freed during the Feast of Passover. But that selection was not entrusted with him but to the choice of the people (Matthew 27:15). He presented an option to the public between Jesus and a notorious criminal Barabbas who committed murder in a rebellion. People after comparing the murderer and God, under the influence of chief priests and elders (Matthew 27:20), who were mediators between God and humans, selected a criminal to be freed and the innocent Lamb of God to be sacrificed.

The next tactic of Pilate was to scourge Jesus and present him in a sympathetic shape to satisfy his enemies and make them allow his release. The soldiers of Pilate scourged Jesus, hard-pressed a crown of thorns on his head, clothed him in a purple cloak, and struck him repeatedly mocking him as the “King of the Jews.” However, the enemies repeated saying, “Crucify him!”

Pressure tactics of Jews

When Pilate attempted to release Jesus, the Jews used their pressure tactic saying, “If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” (John 19:12). Jews hated Pilate because they had previous issues with Pilate and had complained against him to the Roman emperor. When Governor Pilate first visited Jerusalem from Caesarea, which was his headquarters, he came with soldiers who carried the image of the emperor on their standards that were used instead of flags. All the previous Roman governors had removed the image before they entered the city to respect the faith of the Jews. Despite the demand of the Jews, Pilate was adamant on his decision. The Jews followed Pilate to Caesarea. Pilate threatened to kill the large gathering of Jews. They were even willing to die for their belief. To avoid a massacre of the Jewish gathering, Pilate had to agree with them.

The second issue Pilate had with Jews was that he raided the Temple treasury to meet the expenses of a new aqueduct he reconstructed to supply enough water to Jerusalem. It had benefitted the Temple that needed much water for the sacrifices and cleaning. However, Jews objected taking money from the Temple treasury and they made riots on the street. Pilate mingled his soldiers in civil clothes with the rioters and at a given signal attacked and killed many of them. Because of the complaint of Jews, Pilate had to answer to Roman Emperor Tiberius for his action.

A third incident was that when Pilate was in Jerusalem, he used to stay in the ancient palace of Herod. He had made shields with the name of the emperor inscribed on them. Since emperor was regarded as god in the Roman empire, and that name was inscribed and displayed for reverence in the Holy City, the Jews vehemently objected. Pilate refused to remove it. At the request of the Jews, Emperor Tiberius asked Pilate to remove it. Thus, Pilate had many downfalls in his relationship with the Jews. So, he knew that release of Jesus could be another setback for him from the Jews who would complain to the emperor against him.

Pilate, who was bold in many previous occasions, found it better to be free from trouble and look for his bright future. Sometimes, we also fall into the situation of Pilate. Our past might haunt us and prevent us from doing the right. Our concern for the worldly future also influences us to do injustice.

Pilate washing hands

Pilate was sure that Jesus was innocent. His conscience was bothering him also because his wife sent him message about the innocence of Jesus. At the same time, he had to avoid trouble from Jews and from the Roman emperor. So, he used a Jewish custom of washing hands to escape from the murder of an innocent person as given in Deuteronomy 21:1-9. Still Pilate was doing injustice as a judge. He judged to crucify the innocent one who will come one day as the judge of Pilate and all humanity.

PRIESTS, CHIEF

The head of the Aaronic family was supposed to be the high priest. However, Romans had removed him to appoint their own favorite person in that prestigious position. High priests include the then high priest along with those who held the same office before.

During the public ministry of Jesus, Caiaphas was the High Priest and his father in law and former high priest Annas was the head of the Sanhedrin and coworker of Caiaphas. Both were known as high priests. Besides these two, the heads of the 24 courses of priests were known as chief priests.

PRIESTS, DIVISION OF

All priests served in the temple of Jerusalem during the busy season of the three main Jewish feasts: Passover, Pentecost, and Feast of the Tabernacles. At other times, each division of priests served two terms of one week each in a year. Even then, all priests of the division could not be in the temple during the off season. So, they were selected by lot which was a selection from God. Many would not get this opportunity. So, Zechariah must have been delighted for his selection for priestly duty and had prepared himself spiritually for the service.

PROPHETS, FALSE

The prophet was a representative and a spokesperson of God. This being a privileged position, there were people who pretended as prophets in the Old and New Testament times. Jesus warned his disciples to be cautious of false prophets who misguided people and led them to eternal destruction. In the modern times also, there are people without any apostolic succession who start churches of their own and try to convert people, including Catholics, to their sheep promising eternal reward through the easy way. Many of these evangelists do this for their own selfish motives.

Jesus warned that “False messiahs and false prophets will arise, and they will perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24). Even when the Israelites where in the desert, God reminded them through Moses: “If there arises in your midst a prophet or a dreamer who promises you a sign or wonder, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’” whom you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ and the sign or wonder foretold to you comes to pass, do not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer; for the LORD, your God, is testing you to know whether you really love the LORD, your God, with all your heart and soul.” (Deuteronomy 13: 2-4). So, God allows false prophets to test our fidelity to Him.

PRIESTS AND LEVITES

This parable of the Good Samaritan has a priest and a Levite as characters. There is difference in their designation. All priests were Levites, but not all Levites were priests. The Levites descended from the Levi who was one of the 12 sons of Jacob. Before God’s covenant with Israelites at Mount Sinai, all the heads of the families were priests. After the sin of Golden Calf, only the Levites declared faithfulness to God. So, they were selected for divine service at the Holy Place in the tabernacle and later in the Temple of Jerusalem. God selected Aron, the brother of Moses who was also a Levite as the chief priest. His sons and their descendants were priests and high priests.

PRIESTS WORKING ON SABBATH

The priests must work double on a Sabbath in the temple to make sure the sacrifices take place according to the prescriptions of the Law. “On the sabbath day: two unblemished yearling lambs, with a grain offering of two tenths of an ephah of bran flour mixed with oil, and its libation. This is the sabbath burnt offering each sabbath, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its libation.” (Numbers 28:9). This involved work by priests like cleaning of sacrificial animals, lighting of fires, slaughter of animals, lifting of them on to the altar, and other related works. In addition, the priests also had to change the showbread on the every sabbath such works would become violation of Sabbath for ordinary people (Leviticus 24:8). However, the law itself gave precedence for the sacrifice to God over the Sabbath rules. Jesus who gave importance to human suffering, also expressed precedence for acts of mercy over Sabbath regulations.

PRODIGAL SON, RING AND SANDALS

Ring was symbolic of sharing father’s authority. The signet ring was like an official seal or credit card of the modern times. It was used to sign documents and give assurance for any credit that would be paid by the father. When Pharaoh made Joseph his prime minister, he gave a ring as sign of sharing his authority in the palace. “And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck.” (Genesis 41:42). The prodigal son was honored and empowered in a similar way.

Sandals were symbol of family membership and authority. Others like servants and slaves were not allowed to wear sandals.

PROPHETESS

There were mainly five prophetesses before Christ. Miriam, the sister of Moses was a first one (Exodus 15:20) who led the women of Israel in praising God for drowning Pharaoh and his army. Another prophetess was Deborah (Judges 4:4) who was also a judge of Israel before the rule of kings. Huldah was another prophetess (2 Kings 22:14). The other prophetesses were Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14) and Isaiah’s wife (Isaiah 8:3). Then came Anna who came at the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. The prophetesses were very few and served only short-term compared to male prophets of the Old Testament.

RESURRECTION APPEARANCES

Jesus had appeared “to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God.” (Acts 1:3). The following are the recorded appearances of Jesus after his resurrection:

1. To Mary Magdalene in Jerusalem on the Resurrection Sunday (John 20:11-18, Mark 16:9-11)

2. To a group of women in Jerusalem on Resurrection Sunday as presented by the Synoptic gospels: “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (Matthew 28:1,9),  “Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome” (Mark 16:1), “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them” (Luke 24:10).

3. To Simon Peter in Jerusalem on the Resurrection Sunday (Luke 24:34, 1 Cor 15:5).

4. Cleopas and his companion on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the Resurrection Sunday (Luke 24:13-35).

5. To ten apostles excluding Thomas in Jerusalem on the Resurrection Sunday (John 20:19-25).

6. To the 11 apostles including Thomas in Jerusalem on the 8th day after the Resurrection (John 20:26-29).

7. To seven disciples, “Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples” (John 21:2), who were fishing at the Sea of Tiberias in Galilee within a few weeks after the resurrection and before the ascension on the 40th day.

8. To the 11 disciples at a mountain in Galilee within a few weeks after the resurrection (Matthew 28:16-20).

9. To “more than five hundred brothers at once” (1 Cor. 15:6) and to James (1Cor. 15:7). Location is unknown and happened within a few weeks after the resurrection.

10. To the apostles in Jerusalem and led them to the Mount of Olives just before his ascension on the 40th day (Luke 24:50-52, Acts 1:4-9).

RESURRECTION APPEARANCES, DIFFICULTY TO RECOGNIZE

There were several instances when those who saw Jesus after resurrection had a hard time recognizing him:

1. When Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, she thought he was a gardener (John 20:15) and recognized him only after he called her by name (John 20:14-17).

2.  When Jesus appeared to the Apostles on the first day of resurrection, “they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost.” (Luke 24:37).

3. Though Jesus joined Cleopas and his companion on their journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the Resurrection Sunday, their eyes were prevented from recognizing him (Luke 24:16). Later, “while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” (Luke 24:30-31).

4. When seven disciples, “Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples” (John 21:2), were fishing at the Sea of Tiberias in Galilee saw Jesus on the shore, they did not recognize until they had a miraculous catch of fish at the direction of Jesus (John 21:1-14).

The reason for difficulty in recognizing the Risen Jesus was because of his transformed spiritual body. Though Jesus raised Lazarus (John 11:1-44), the son of the widow in Nain (Luke 7:11-17), and Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:49-56), they came back to life with their natural body. However, the risen body of Jesus was different and perfect without limitations of the physical laws. That was why he could appear and disappear like angels and could enter through locked doors (John 20:19).

The resurrected body of Christ is an indication for the redeemed on how their imperfect earthly body would be transformed in the heavenly realm. According to St. Paul’s first letter to Corinthians chapter 15:40-49, the heavenly bodies are bright, incorruptible, glorious, powerful, spiritual, heavenly, and bear the image of the heavenly one. Though we can be recognizable, our bodies would be different and perfect.

The body of the Risen Jesus was different in appearance and characteristics. However, he was also close to how he looked like during his public ministry. That was why the disciples, though misunderstood first, could recognize him and were convinced that he had risen from the dead.

RESURRECTION, EVENTS AFTER DEATH

The order of events after the death of Jesus is as follows:

1. The Burial of Jesus (Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, John 19:38-42)

2. The Guard at the Tomb (Matthew 27:62-66)

3. The Resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, John 20:1-10)

4. The Appearance to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9-11, John 20:11-18)

5. The Appearance to Two Disciples (Mark 16:12-13, Luke 24:13-35)

6. The Appearance to the Disciples in Jerusalem (Luke 24:36-49, John 20:19-23)

7. The Report of the Guard (Matthew 28:11-15)

RESURRECTION AND HOLY TRINITY

The resurrection of Jesus is attributed to the Most Holy Trinity. All the three persons of God are involved according to the Bible. St. Paul writes in Romans 6:4, “Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father.” Examples of other references of God the Father raising Jesus are: Acts 2:32; 2:24; 10:40; 13:30 and Galatians 1:1. Jesus himself came back to life according to John 2:19: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” In John 10:18, Jesus said that he had power to lay his life down, and power to take it up again.” St. Paul in Romans 8:11 and St. Peter in 1 Peter 3:18 specify that the Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead. Thus, we see that the resurrection of Jesus is attributed to the Most Holy Trinity.

RESURRECTION ON THE THIRD DAY

Three days does not necessarily mean 72 hours or three full days. Jews of Jesus’ time counted even a part of the day as one day. So, the death of Jesus at 3:00 P.M. on Friday and burial before 6:00 P.M. was counted as the first day. Friday from 6:00 P.M. to Saturday 6:00 P.M. was the second day. Early morning before sunrise on Sunday was the third day.

SADDUCEES

Sadducees were a priestly sect of the Jews that was active during the public ministry of Jesus and flourished around two centuries before the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Though their origin and early history is not clear now, their name derived from the Zadok, the high priest at the time of Kings David and Solomon. Zadok was also a descendant of Aaron from the tribe of Levites (1 Chronicles 27:17).

Zadok’s descendants controlled the temple service and administration. Eventually the Sadducees came under the influence of Greek culture and tied up with the Roman rulers of Palestine to keep up their position. They became money obsessed and became a rich priestly class by generating income from the Temple. They were rivals with another dominant Jewish sect of the time, the Pharisees. However, Sadducees had controlled the Temple and its priesthood. St. Luke records that when the apostles were brought for trial in front of the Sanhedrin, “the high priest rose up and all his companions, that is, the party of the Sadducees.” (Acts 5:17).

The Sadducees focused their belief and teachings on Torah, the first five books of the Bible. They did not accept other books of the Bible including prophets and other writings. Thus, unlike the Pharisees, they denied the oral traditions, immortality of the soul, bodily resurrection after death, and the existence of angels. Acts 23:8 states: “Sadducees say that there is no resurrection or angels or spirits, while the Pharisees acknowledge all three.”

Though conservative, their greed for wealth, made them compromise with Roman administrators to keep up their authority. So, the common people hated their approach. The Sadducees had a significant role in the crucifixion of Jesus. Since Sadducees were associated with the Temple worship, that group disappeared from history with the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.

They disagreed with Jesus on his teaching on the resurrection of the dead and the life after death. They denied a life after death because resurrection was not clear in the Torah which was their only officially recognized Holy Scripture.

SADDUCEES AND PHARISEES

See PHARISEES AND SADDUCEES

SALOME

See ZEBEDEE, SONS OF

SAMARITAN

The Jews would hate Jesus mentioning of Samaritans and presenting a Samaritan traveler as a good man in the parable. There had been historical hostility between Jews and Samaritans. The Samaritans were the occupants of the territory formerly assigned to the tribes of Ephraim and the half-tribe Manasseh. Samaria was its capital. When the Assyrians deported and scattered in captivity the ten tribes of Northern Israel, “The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and settled them in the cities of Samaria in place of the Israelites. They took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities.” (2 Kings 17:24). They intermarried the remaining Israelites in the newly occupied area. The pagans who inhabited Samaria continued the worship of their idols. So, God send lions among them that killed some people. King of Assyria sent them an Israelite priest from exile to teach them the worship of the God of the land. They learnt the books of Moses and began to worship the God of Israel but continued their idolatry as well. “They were both venerating the LORD and serving their own gods.” (2 Kings 17:33). Because of this mixed race and mixed worship, the Samaritans were considered “half-breeds” and Jews hated them.

The animosity increased because of several other reasons: (1) When the Jews returned from Babylonian exile and started rebuilding the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem, the Samaritans opposed it and halted it for some time (Nehemiah 6:1-14). (2) The Samaritans perpetuated their idolatrous worship by building a temple for them on Mount Gerizim. (3) Samaritans offered refuge for all the outlaws of Judea (Joshua 20:6-7; 21:21). (4) The Samaritans while accepting the Torah, rejected other Jewish scriptures and Jewish traditions. Hence, Jews hated Samaritans and had no contact with them (John 4:9. 8:48).

Jesus drew a contrasting picture between Jews and Samaritans in the practice of faith. The Samaritan whom Jews hated and considered worthless because of his non-Jewish beliefs and practices became compassionate and helping neighbor for the helpless and suffering Jew.

Jesus favored Samaritans in many instances like the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42), and rebuking James and John from calling down fire from heaven to consume Samaritans when they refused to welcome Jesus because he was heading for Jerusalem (Luke 9:53-55). Jesus acknowledged the gratitude of the Samaritan and exposed him as an example for others, including Jews, who underestimated the Samaritans. As in the case of the Good Samaritan, the healed leper who came back to thank Jesus (Luke 17:11-19) was another role model from the Samaritans.

SAMARITAN, GOOD

Unlike the priest and Levite who passed by on the opposite side avoiding any contact with the victim, the Samaritan expressed his compassion in action. When the priest and the Levite thought of what bad would happen to them if they take care of the victim, the Samaritan thought of what would happen to the victim if he wound not care for him. With this difference in approach, the Samaritan took the risk of being attacked by the robbers who had attacked the victim. The Samaritan spend oil, wine and cloth he had, as first aid for the victim. These were used to heal the sore made by circumcision. Forgetting the Jewish-Samaritan rivalry, he treated the victim as his own. He spent time from his busy life, he provided the service of his ass to carry the victim while he went on foot to the nearby inn and nursed him there. 

SANHEDRIN

Sanhedrin literally meant “sitting together” or assembly. Sanhedrin was established after Babylonian exile with religious, civil, and criminal jurisdiction over the Israelites. Each city in the ancient land of Israel had a Sanhedrin consisting of 23 rabbis. The Sanhedrin in Jerusalem consisting of 71 judges headed by the Hight Priest was the supreme council and tribunal.  It also acted as the Supreme Court, taking appeals referred by lesser Sanhedrin. When “The Sanhedrin” was used it was referring to the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. This Sanhedrin met every day except festivals and the sabbath day in the Hall of Hewn Stones in the Temple. Romans had restricted their authority.

SATAN

See DEVIL / ENEMY / SATAN

SCRIBES

The scribes were a group of people whose main job was studying, copying, and interpreting the Holy Scripture. They thrived from the time of Babylonian exile to the destruction of the second Temple in 70 A.D. They were very serious in copying the Bible without error. Deprived of them Old Testament could not have been preserved in the past when there were no durable writing materials and copying devices. Though some of them were priests like Ezra (Ezra 7:5-6), Levites and common people also became scribes. They were also experts in the judicial procedures and served the Sanhedrin. Jews respected them because of their knowledge in the Bible, dedicated service, and adherence to the Laws. They gained authority among the Jews and joined Pharisees in opposing Jesus for his liberal approach on man-made laws. Some of them were members of the Sanhedrin and wise scribes were also titled as Rabbi.

Besides carefully making copies of the Pentateuch, the scribes studied them, and provided guidance to the people for application in daily lives. Their applications and directions were not written down but transmitted as oral laws from generations to generations. So, the preaching of the scribes was based on the written or oral laws and was not coming as their own. Their teachings were not self-assertive and so did not carry weight. The top-level scribe was known as Rabbi. The difference in Jesus’ teaching was that he taught with his own authority rather than relying on the traditional teachings or directions of the Rabbis. Unlike the Rabbis or scribes, Jesus teaching carried weight also because he practiced what he taught.

SCRIBES VS SCHOLARS OF THE LAW

The scholar of the law does not mean like the regular lawyers of our time who are experts in civil or criminal law. The lawyer who questioned Jesus (Luke 10:25-37) was an expert in the laws of Moses given in the first five books of the Bible called Torah or Pentateuch. Some identify him as a scribe. The scribe was an expert in the whole Old Testament who used to make copies of the Holy Scripture and served in the synagogues as reader and interpreter of the Bible. The difference between a scribe and scholar of the law is that the scholar of the law was a scribe who specialized in the Mosaic laws than in other sections of the scripture. Such scholars of the Torah were in demand because the whole lives of the Israelites were governed by the written laws and their interpretations.

SERPENT IN THE DESERT AND JESUS

The Israelites had been wandering in the desert for 40 years since they left Egypt. It took such a long time because of their sins. Many had died in the desert. They had no immediate hope of entering the promised land because they were denied passage through the land of Edom. Though they were close to the promised land, Moses was leading the people in the opposite direction to travel around the land of Edom. That made the people upset. They again complained against Moses and God for lack of food and water and the quality of food they got by the grace of God. In response, God punished them by sending fiery serpents.  The snakes were called “fiery” because the bite by these snakes caused great fever and inflammation leading to death. Some other interpreters guess that these snakes had the color of fire. People asked Moses to intercede for them to God to take away the serpents. Instead of eliminating the serpents, God asked Moses to make an image of the fiery serpent made of bronze and raise it on a pole so that it could be seen from all parts of the camp. Whoever bitten by snake was asked to look at the bronze snake and their life was saved from death.

God who had denied making any image had ordered to create the image of a fiery serpent on a pole as a foreshadow of the crucified Jesus in the future. Looking at the bronze serpent did not mean to worship it but to remember their sin like the original sin committed by Eve at the temptation of the serpent and ask God’s mercy. It was not the bronze serpent that saved them but God who asked to look at it to remember God. However, the bronze serpent later became an object of worship. People were burning incense to it during the time of Hezekiah. So, the king destroyed it to regain proper worship of the Lord (2Kings 18:4).

Instead of the pole and bronze serpent of the Old Testament, now we have the cross and the body of Jesus on the cross to look at with faith and repentance for our salvation. The fact that there was a bronze serpent raised on a pole by Moses was not enough for saving the lives of the people. Those who were bitten by snake had to look at it with repentance and seeking mercy of God rather than relying on medical remedies of the time. The death of Jesus on the cross brought us salvation. However, we need to look at him with faith for our redemption. The cross of Jesus was also the way to the glory of Jesus. Our sufferings for Christ and his church also will lead us to partake in the glory of Jesus.

The bronze serpent was free from poison. So also, Jesus raised on the cross was free from sin.

SHEPHERD

The Bible characterizes kings as shepherds of their people. It even considers God and Messiah also as shepherds of the people (Ezek 34:1-10). In Psalm 23:1, David says, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

SHEPHERDS IN BETHLEHEM

Bethlehem, being close to Jerusalem, was a sheep rearing area for sacrifices in the Temple. Besides the sacrifice of many lambs on the feast days, the priests sacrificed an unblemished lamb every morning and evening. Angels invited the shepherds and their sacrificial lambs when the divine shepherd, the last lamb of sacrifice was born.

David was also a shepherd boy at the same location when Samuel anointed him as the future King of Israel. Jesus, the “Son of David” and the promised eternal king of the universe, was born in David’s native place.

The birth announcement of the Messiah did not happen to the High Priest or King Herod, but to the humble shepherds who were of low social and religious status. The orthodox people despised the shepherds because they could not keep the religious laws and rituals. In the Canticle of Mary, she sings: “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly” (Lk 1:52). The stalwarts of the Old Testament like Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses were also shepherds.

SHEPHERD, GOOD

The “good” here stands for commitment for the sheep distinct from regular shepherds. The goodness of a shepherd is exemplified by stating that he “lays down his life for the sheep.” A typical example is that of David who told King Saul when he was questioned on his ability to attack the giant Goliath: “Your servant used to tend his father’s sheep, and whenever a lion or bear came to carry off a sheep from the flock, I would chase after it, attack it, and snatch the prey from its mouth. If it attacked me, I would seize it by the throat, strike it, and kill it. Your servant has killed both a lion and a bear (1 Samuel 17:34-36).

SIMEON

No one knows for sure the details of this Simeon, except the evangelist’s description. Though not all scholars agree, some identify him with Shimeon, the son of Hillel and father of Gamaliel and president of the Sanhedrin.

Saint Luke gives some description of Simeon

1) Simeon lived in Jerusalem.

Simeon being a holy and elderly man filled with Holy Spirit was living in Jerusalem, the Holy City of God (Ps 48:2, 9).

2) Simeon was righteous.

According to the Hebrew Bible, righteousness is one of the chief attributes of God. Righteousness stands for good ethical conduct. “You shall not pervert justice in measuring length, weight or quantity” (Lev 19:35). The Bible characterizes Noah, Abraham, Job, Jesus’ foster father Joseph, and many others as righteous people. The call of Christians is to be imitators of God in righteousness.

3) Simeon was devout.

The meaning of devout is God-fearing, reverential, or pious. Simeon was visiting the Temple to keep up his devotion to God.

4) Simeon was awaiting the consolation of Israel.

From a political point of view, Israel was awaiting liberation from foreign rulers. They had been continuously under pagan rulers like Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans. The Israelites remembered God delivering their ancestors through Moses from Egyptian slavery and leading them to the Promised Land. They were expectantly waiting for such a deliverer, to give them freedom, peace, and prosperity.

From a socio-religious point of view, the lower-class people of Israel, viz. the Samaritans, and Gentiles had generally lost hopes for salvation because the high-class Jews taught that God’s favour was only for the elite group. Jesus came to offer consolation for the less fortunate in the community. Quoting from Isaiah 61:1-2, Jesus proclaimed: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and sight to the blind; to free the oppressed and to announce the Lord’s year of mercy” (Lk 4:18-19). For Jesus, this was a spiritual liberation from the bondage of Satan, sin, suffering, and spiritual death. The liberative actions of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit brought consolation for Israel as well as for all the nations.

5) The Holy Spirit was upon Simeon.

This phrase shows the Holy Spirit’s presence in a person to conduct a special purpose. Simeon’s mission was to prophesy on Jesus and give witness to Joseph, Mary, and those present in the Temple. In the New Testament, all who receive baptism receive the Holy Spirit to give witness to Christ in their lives.

Simeon had reached a ripe old age and was patiently awaiting the fulfilment of this assurance he had received through the Holy Spirit. The apocryphal book called the “Gospel of Nativity” presents him as 113 years old.

Simeon had a message from the Holy Spirit that he would be fortunate to see the coming of the Messiah in his lifetime. Jesus himself later expressed that many prophets and kings of the Old Testament wished for it. “Then Jesus turned to his disciples and said to them privately, ‘Fortunate are you to see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it’” (Lk 10:23-24).

Simeon had reached a ripe old age and was patiently awaiting the fulfilment of this assurance he had received through the Holy Spirit. The apocryphal book called the “Gospel of Nativity” presents him as 113 years old.

SIMON THE CANANEAN, APOSTLE

Simon is named as Simon the Zealot in Luke 6:15 and as Simon the Cananean in Matthew 10:4 and Mark 3:18. Cananean did not mean that he was from the original inhabitants of Canaan. In Hebrew, Cananean is equivalent of Zealote in Greek. He must be a member of the Zealot group before joining the group of Jesus. The Zealots were a group of revolutionaries organized against the Roman rule. Their hatred to Rome later led to fight against Romans and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Unlike Matthew who was pro-Roman, Simon was anti-Roman. Jesus selected both with opposing views in his band and made them people of true faith. Simon worked, suffered and died for the true Kingdom of God that Jesus established.

According to tradition, Simon preached on the west coast of Africa, and then moved to England where he was crucified in 74 AD. Others say he, after preaching in Egypt, accompanied St. Jude to Persia and martyred in Edessa in 67 AD.

SIMON, THE CYRENIAN

Roman soldiers had a practice to forcefully ask anyone on the road to help them carry their luggage. It was in this context that Jesus taught, “If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles.” (Matthew 5:41). While Jesus was carrying the cross to Calvary, the soldiers forced Simon, a Cyrenian to carry the cross so that Jesus could be crucified alive. Cyrenaica was the capital of a Roman province on the north coast of Africa. and Cyrene was its capital city. The city had a large population of Greek-speaking Jews. Simon, a Greek-speaking Jew might have migrated to Palestine. “After laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus.” (Luke 23:26). Simon was literally fulfilling the teaching of Jesus, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24). Simon was in fact carrying the cross of Jesus and following him. Jesus wants us to share his cross in our lifetime to continue his mission in this world.

Mark 15:21 presents Simon as “father of Alexander and Rufus.” The reason for giving the names of his sons are because they must have been prominent followers of Jesus and well-known leaders of the early church. It is not just cursing that pass down to generations, but blessings as well. The good works we do for Jesus and his church will have its lasting effects in our coming generations.

SOLOMON, SEEKING WISDOM FROM GOD

The story of King Solomon gaining supernatural wisdom from God is given in 1Kings 3:4-15. After the king offered 1000 burnt offering at the altar in Gibeon, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and asked him what favor he wanted. Solomon humbly expressed his limitations as a little child and do not know how to carry out his duties (Verse 7). “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (verse 9). God was pleased with Solomon’s request and told him: “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” (Verses 11-15).

SON OF DAVID

“Son of David” was a Messianic title originating from the covenant God made with King David around 1000 years before Christ. When King David asked permission from God through Prophet Nathan to construct a house for the Lord, the Lord did not allow his wish. However, God made promises to David that He would fulfill it through his son (2 Samuel 7:12–17). Who was this son through whom the promises were fulfilled? They were only partially realized through Solomon, the biological son and successor of David. And the rest had to be fulfilled through the Messiah, the seed of Eve (Genesis 3:14–15) and a greater son from the lineage of David.

Though Solomon built the Temple, the promise of God that “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:13) did not happen in the life of Solomon. He ruled only for 40 years and committed sin, especially during his later age. So God said, “If he does wrong, I will reprove him with a human rod and with human punishments.” (2 Samuel 7:14). This was only applicable to Solomon and not to the Messiah who was God who took human flesh. God continued in verse 16: “Your house and your kingdom are firm forever before me; your throne shall be firmly established forever.” Thus, “forever” is repeated thrice (verses 13 and 16) emphasizing the everlasting nature of the Kingdom of David’s grater son.

Because of God’s promise to David that his son would establish his kingdom firmly forever, the Israelites have been hoping for an everlasting king from the line of David to sit on the throne of David and to rule the kingdom for eternity without any failure. God revealed this son of David through Angel Gabriel to Mary, the mother of the Messiah. “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33). Matthew starts his gospel stating: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The “son of David” is used 17 times in the New Testament for Jesus meaning that he was the promised and long-awaited Messiah. The people acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah by proclaiming, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9) during his triumphant entry into the temple of Jerusalem. 

“Son of David” was used for Jesus several times by people who were seeking his mercy.  For example, a Canaanite woman called Jesus, “Lord, Son of David” while asking him to cure her daughter who was tormented by a demon (Matthew 15:22). Two blind men requesting healing from Jesus also called him, “Lord, Son of David.” (Matthew 20:30). In these cases, they were acknowledging Jesus as their savior using the term Lord and the Messianic title “Son of David.” The usage of “son of David” by the angel to Joseph is not the messianic title but only meant that God sees his ancestral connection with David, from whose line the deliverer would come. There is difference in the use by “son” by translators: “S” is capital when “Son of David” is used for Jesus and “s” is small letter when it is used for Joseph.

The angel’s salutation to Joseph as “son of David” catches the attention. It is an acknowledgement of the fact that Joseph was descended from the bloodline of King David. Through this, the angel prepared Joseph for the next part of the message. Israelites were expecting a Messiah who would be a descendant of King David because of God’s covenant with him (2 Sam 7:12-16). So Joseph, as the legal father, also had a role in the genealogy of the Messiah.

Several people, while seeking the mercy of Jesus, called him “Son of David.” For example, a Canaanite woman called Jesus, “Lord, Son of David” when she beseeched him to cure her demon-tormented daughter (Mt 15:22). Two blind men requested healing from Jesus calling him, “Lord, Son of David.” (Mt 20:30). In these cases, they were acknowledging Jesus as their saviour using the term Lord and the messianic title “Son of David.” The angel addressing Joseph, “son of David” is not the messianic title, but only meant that God sees his ancestral connection with David, from whose line the deliverer would come. There is a difference in using “son” by the translators: They use capital “S” for Jesus as the “Son of David” and the lower case “s” for Joseph as the “son of David.”

SON OF GOD

The title "son of God" is used in the Old Testament for persons who had intimate relationship with God. Angels, Adam, the descendants of Seth, the selected representatives of God to lead Israel like the kings, princes, and judges, just or pious men were known as the "sons of God." (Job 1:6; 2:1; Psalm 89:7; Wisdom 2:13). God considered the nation of Israel as his first-born son (Exodus 4:22). They were creations of God and not sons in the strict sense. However, Jesus is the eternally begotten Son of God. Meaning of begotten is fathered or generated by procreation. So, Jesus as the begotten son of God means he is also God. No one else can claim this position. Hence, the Son of God when applied for Jesus had a special meaning in the New Testament because of the divinity of Jesus. So, the initial letter of “Son” is capitalized when used for Jesus to distinguish him from other sons of God.

“Son of God” has a greater and unique meaning when applied for the Messiah. At the baptism and transfiguration of Jesus, the voice of the Father declared Jesus as his “beloved Son.” Church believes that Jesus existed as the eternal son of God. The Nicene Creed of 325 AD states: “I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made.” The creation of the world through the Son of God is mentioned in Colossians 1:15-18 and Hebrews 1:2.

SON OF MAN / SON OF GOD

The Hebrew phrase "the Son of Man" means a human being (Ezekiel 2:1). However, when the same phrase was used in the vision of Prophet Daniel (7:13), it acquired divine qualities because the son of man came with the clouds of heaven. Ordinary humans cannot travel on the clouds.  Jesus chose this phrase for himself out of his humility while others used “Son of God” that gives emphasis to the divine origin of Jesus. So, it designates the human and divine nature of Jesus.

STEPHEN, ST.

Just before the martyrdom of St. Stephen, he had a vision of heaven. He saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55). Jesus was supposed to be sitting at the right hand of his Father. But Stephen saw Jesus standing as Jesus was welcoming him to his presence in heaven. That gave the first martyr of the church the strength to face stoning to death.  While Jews stoned him, Stephen called out “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” (Acts 7:59). A true disciple of Jesus can confidently say the same at the end of his death because Jesus had promised this.

THADDEUS

See JUDAS THADDEUS, THE APOSTLE

TEMPLE, CLEANSING OF THE

The cleansing of the Temple by Jesus was an unusual physical protest of Jesus against the Jewish authorities for defiling the Temple. This is a reminder of the Maccabean Revolt from 167 to 160 BC led by the Maccabees against the misuse of the temple by Seleucid rulers and the corrupt Jewish priests under the Hellenistic influence. After victory over the Seleucid rulers and Hellenized Jews by rebellion and guerrilla wars against worship of Greek gods, the Maccabees entered Jerusalem in triumph and cleansed the Temple and reestablished the traditional Jewish worship.

Cleansing of the Temple by Jesus was also a revolt against the Jewish religious leaders who desecrated the premises of the Holy Temple for allowing trade at the Court of the Gentiles and financially exploiting the pilgrims. Like the priests during the Maccabean revolt were corrupt by bribery given to Seleucid rulers for their position, the clergy during Jesus’ public ministry were corrupt and unjust by bribery given to the Roman authorities. They also received bribery for the unjust merchants in the Temple.

TEMPLE, JESUS BECAME FURIOUS

What made Jesus furious was (1) the shift of merchandise from the Mount of Olives to the place of prayer for gentiles, making it a noisy and congested place. (2) Exploitation of merchants with the cooperation of the high priests who were charging high margin for the exchange of money. (3) Merchants exploiting pilgrims by charging high price for sacrificial animals and birds. (4) Priests unreasonably rejecting animals brought by pilgrims from outside for sacrifice while inspection of any defects of sacrificial animals was done to favor the animal salespersons in the temple. So, the true spirit of prayer and selfless service was lacking that made Jesus furious and act as a rebellious leader.

TEMPLE AND MONEY CHANGERS

Adult pilgrims were supposed to offer half shekel for the service of the temple. “Everyone who is enrolled, of twenty years or more, must give the contribution to the LORD. The rich need not give more, nor shall the poor give less, than a half-shekel in this contribution to the LORD to pay the ransom for their lives.” (Exodus 30:14-15). Coins with images were not allowed for offering in the Temple. Pilgrims were coming from different countries with Syrian, Egyptian, or Greek coins. Such coins were stamped with the symbols or images of pagan monarchs. So, they were not acceptable into the Temple treasury.  The pilgrims had to exchange them for acceptable coins. Though it was supposed to be a service, great exploitation of the pilgrims was taking place by charging an enormous amount as exchange fee. Jesus could not tolerate that exploitation.

TEMPLE AND ZEDHARIAH

The Temple of Jerusalem had different sections. The most sacred place was the Holy of Holies, a dark place where only the High Priest entered once a year on the feast day of Atonement with a lamp to incense. This was the Ark of the Covenant’s location in the first Temple that King Solomon had built. The adjacent section was the Holy Place where the priests did the daily incensing before the morning sacrifice and after the evening sacrifice. The golden altar of incense was here. Only priests had access to the Holy Place, where there were also the menorah and the table of showbread. It was here that the Angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah.

THOMAS, THE APOSTLE

The original name of St. Thomas, according to tradition, is Judas Thomas or Judas the Twin. Thomas is a Hebrew name and Didymus a Greek name. The literal meaning of Thomas is twin originated from Te’oma in Aramaic and Didymos in Greek (John 11:16). Probably St. Thomas had a twin brother or sister. Both the names signify twin because Thomas was one of the twins in his family. Jews used to have a Jewish name and a gentile name. In Judea, they were known by their Hebrew name and in Galilee and other non-Jewish areas they were called by their gentile name. Saul and Paul of the Apostle Paul is an example. According to the Syriac tradition, St. Thomas is also known as Mar Thoma Sleeha which means Lord Thomas the Apostle.

Thomas is believed to be of the same age of Jesus. He expressed his boldness to die for Jesus when the other disciples discouraged Jesus from going back to Judea to see the sick Lazarus saying:  “Rabbi, the Jews were just trying to stone you, and you want to go back there?” (John 11:8). Thomas encouraged them saying: “Let us also go to die with him.” (John 11:16). However, Thomas was not at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified. He doubted the resurrection of Jesus when other disciples said that they had seen the Risen Lord. So, Thomas is nicknamed as “Doubting Thomas." However, he expressed his great faith in the Lord by declaring to Jesus, “My Lord and My God.” (John 20:28). Thomas preached in Parthia, Persia and India. While he was abroad, the Blessed Mother Mary died, and he reached at her home on the third day after her death. Upon his insistence, the tomb of Mary was opened, and her body was not found. Thomas saw Mary being taken up to heaven. Thomas was stabbed to death by a spear at Mylapore in India in 72 AD. This has some similarity to the death of Jesus because the heart of Jesus was pierced by a spear.

TWELVE APOSTLES

Though Jesus had many disciples, why did he limit the number of apostles to 12? Twelve had been considered as a number of perfection for administration. Number three signifies the divinity (Trinity) and four stands for earth (four corners). Twelve is the product of three and four and thus a combination of heaven and earth.

According to the divine plan, Israel was divided into 12 tribes under the names of the sons of Jacob (Genesis 49:28). Tribal leaders were selected to represent these tribes for efficient administration under King David (1 Chronicles 27:16-22). When Jesus started his public ministry as Son of David, he reestablished the rule of the 12 princes through the 12 apostles he selected on the mountain. This was indicative of the reestablishment of the old Israel in a new form. These 12 were not representatives of the 12 tribes originated from Jacob. Though they were Jews, they were to represent all nations whom God promised to bless when he made covenant with Abraham. God had told Abraham, “in your descendants all the nations of the earth will find blessing.” (Genesis 26:4).

The importance of the number 12 which was considered as one of the perfect numbers like 3, 7, and 10 derived from the 12 sons of Jacob whose descendants became the 12 tribes of Israel. Moses sent 12 spies to Canaan representing the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus considered his church as the new Israel and selected 12 men as the pillars of his church. He said of his apostles, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Mathew 19:28).

After the death of Judas, the college of the apostles was very particular to maintain the 12 by selecting Mathias substituting Judas.

UNCLEAN SPIRIT

See DEMON

VERONICA

The story of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus on the way to Calvary is not documented in the Bible. The story also tells that Jesus left an image of his face on the cloth that she used to wipe his face.  Her story appeared in a book called “Acts of Pilate” where Veronica is identified as the woman who had been suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind Jesus and touched his tassel on his cloak and got cured (Matthew 9:20-22). The rest of the story is that Veronica “went to Rome and cured the Emperor Tiberius by showing him a painting she had made of Christ after her own healing.”

VIRGIN BIRTH

The ever-virgin motherhood of Mary is a miracle. Fathers of the Church taught that Jesus was born while his mother’s womb was closed. This is compared to sun rays penetrating through glass. Since Blessed Virgin Mary was born free from original sin, she was exempt from the punishment God gave to Eve, “I will intensify your toil in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.” (Genesis 3:16). So, Fathers of the Church believed that Mary was free from pain when she gave birth to Jesus.

From the gospel accounts it is not clear how Mary gave birth to Jesus without losing her virginity. The Theologians differ in assuming how this happened. Regardless of whether Jesus’ birth was by opening the womb of Mary by a normal childbirth or by a miraculous birth without opening the womb of Mary does not affect the virginity of Mary because the virginity is morally lost not by birth or by any other cause, but by sexual union. In Mary’s case, this did not happen. Mary, in her apparition in Mexico on 12 December, 1531 to Juan Bernardino, said that the church should title her as “The Ever Virgin, Holy Mary of Guadalupe.” Thus, she herself has revealed her virginity (https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/resources/mary/popular-marian-devotions/our-lady-of-guadalupe).

Some Theologians interpret that Jesus was born while his mother’s womb was closed. They compare it to sun rays penetrating through the glass. According to this concept, Blessed Virgin Mary was born free from original sin, she was exempt from the punishment God gave to Eve, “I will increase your suffering in child-bearing, and you will give birth to your children in pain” (Gen 3:16). So, they believed that Mary was free from pain when she gave birth to Jesus.

WATER AND BLOOD FROM THE HEART OF JESUS

Symbolic interpretations are given for the water and blood that came from the heart of Jesus. Water represents baptism and blood stands for the Holy Eucharist. This interpretation was confirmed in the vision to Sr. Faustina who was instrumental in propagating the Divine Mercy. Some believe that just was Adam’s side was opened to create Eve, God opened the side of Jesus to generate the church. Church uses water (baptism) and blood (Holy Eucharist) of Jesus to give spiritual birth and to initiate to Christian life. Through the baptismal water, Jesus cleans the stains of original sins and through the Eucharistic body and blood, he nourishes our soul for eternal life.

WIDOW

Widow who was a symbol of helplessness in the Biblical times. Compared to any other books written, the Holy Bible gives importance to the care and protection of widows. God commanded the nation of Israel to take special care for widows along with others who need their care. God commanded through Moses: “You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely listen to their cry. My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.” (Exodus 22:21-23). Psalm 68:5 presents God as the defender of the widows. God asked the Israelites to give full participation for widows in the celebration of the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles along with their children, slaves, Levites, resident alien, and orphans (Deut. 16:11-14).

Jesus, the Son of God, also gave special care for the widows: He raised the dead son of a widow in the city of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). He spoke high of a poor widow who could offer only two small copper coins in the Temple treasury. "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on." (Mark 12:42-44). Jesus criticized the Scribes “who devour widows’ houses (Luke 20:47). While dying on the cross, Jesus entrusted his widowed mother to John’s care (John 19:25-27).

WOMAN

There are cultural differences in saluting others. Jesus calling his mother “woman” was a normal, polite form of address and had a formal implication. The reference is to the book of Genesis where God declares enmity between the “woman” and the serpent (Gen  3:15). Jesus used the same term “woman” when he entrusted Mary to the Apostle John while he was on the cross (Jn 19:26).

ZEALOTS

The Zealots were a group of revolutionaries organized against the Roman rule. Their hatred to Rome later led to fight against Romans and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

ZEBEDEE, SONS OF

Like Peter and Andrew, James and John were brothers and fishermen. Zebedee, their father was a leading businessman of fishing. Zebedee had hired men to run the business (Mark 1:20). Jesus had nicknamed James and John as Boanerges, that is, sons of thunder. This was because of their intense passion and enthusiasm. They, along with the help of their mother Salome, had asked opportunity to sit on both sides of Jesus in his kingdom (Matthew 20:20-23). They were also the inner circle of Jesus along with Peter. These three were the only people allowed to accompany Jesus to witness raising Jairus’ daughter to life (Mark 5:37), to the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2), and to be close with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33).

ZECHARIAH, FROM THE DIVISION OF ABIJAH

Just as God established David’s lineage as the royal lineage, so too God established Aaron’s lineage as the priestly lineage. Every direct descendant of Aaron was a member of the Levitical priesthood. Since there were many priests by right of descent, King David had divided them into 24 sections. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was from Abijah’s division, the eighth of these 24 sections (1 Chr 24:10).

ZECHARIAH, MUTENESS OF

According to the Old Testament, it is the Lord who gives speech and makes one dumb or deaf (Ex 4:11). God once made Prophet Ezekiel mute (Ezek 3:26) because Israel was rebellious and ignored his message. When they became receptive, God restored his speech (Ezek 24:27; 33:22) after seven years. Similarly, Zachariah lost his speech when he expressed disbelief and regained it when he obeyed the angel’s request to name the child.

ZECHARIAH, PRIESTLY DUTY

All priests served in the Temple of Jerusalem during the busy season of the three pilgrimage feasts: the Passover, the Pentecost, and the Feast of the Tabernacles. At other times, each division of priests served two terms of one week each in a year. Even then, it was unnecessary to have all priests of the division to serve in the Temple during the off-season, so the authorities would select a few by lot, which they would then impute as God’s choice. Many would not get this opportunity. God’s providence ensured that Zechariah got the much sought after chance to incense at the Holy Place in the Temple at that juncture.