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Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI


The Silences of God

Chapter 2

The Silence is Broken

     THE MOMENT we enter the New Testament, the silence is broken, the heavens burst into an Allelujah chorus to announce the birth of the promised Saviour-Messiah, and the covenant relationship of God with Israel which has been in abeyance for four hundred years (though by no means abrogated) is suddenly made active once again. God broke his silence gently at first. A few shepherds learned the wonderful news of the Lord's birth in a lowly stable, and a few Magi made a long journey to greet the newborn Child, only to return another way, never to be heard of again. Herod brought a time of grief to mothers in one little district in Palestine as foretold in the Old Testament, but then for thirty years there was almost complete silence again.
     The time of the foretold presentation of Messiah to his people, as revealed in Daniel 9:24-27, was not yet fully come. The period of 483 years from the issuing of the edict to restore and rebuild Jerusalem had not altogether run its course, though it was so nearly over that the Jewish people were already beginning to look for the appearing of their King. Simeon and Anna, seeing the Child in the temple, had wonderful visions for the future (Luke 2:25-38), but even the miraculous events surrounding his birth were somehow kept secret from all but a few.
     Then suddenly, about thirty years later, when much of the excitement of these earlier days had been lost with the passing of time, a prophet like Elijah began calling the nation to repentance.
     And so John the Baptist, as the Messiah's forerunner, appeared like a prophet of old in the desert. We are told that excitement and expectancy were by now so great (Luke 3:15) that people flocked to him to be baptized "for cleansing" as a symbolic way of bearing witness to their readiness to receive their King. Yet, when

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Jesus presented Himself, John was guided by the Holy Spirit to identify Him only as the Lamb of God, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, rather than as the promised Messiah of Daniel 7. This must have puzzled even John himself: but we know now, of course, that Jesus was soon to validate His title as Messiah by the signs and wonders which He was to perform in great numbers. It was clear that God had begun once more to deal directly and manifestly with His people, and John's ministry signaled the picking up again of an active covenant relationship by the revival of the prophetic office entirely in the manner of the Old Testament, as though such a one as Elijah had appeared again in Israel (John 1:21).
     It is evident for a number of reasons, moreover, that while the more thoughtful of the Jewish people were clear enough in their own minds, from a study of the Scriptures, as to the nature of the mission of the Messiah, they were not as clear about the identity of the Suffering Servant whose coming they also anticipated from Isaiah 53. They could not reconcile the two, because the King was clearly coming to rule, whereas the Suffering Servant was clearly coming to die. They knew from Scripture that the Lamb was to be cut off (Isa. 53:8), though not for Himself. But because of their rather imprecise views regarding the resurrection, they did not see that the reconciliation of these two opposite roles for a single individual was quite possible if he were to be raised from the dead to become King only after being offered as the Lamb. And it appears that even John was confused on this point.
     John seems to have had no doubt that Jesus was the Lamb. But from his prison cell he subsequently sent to Him and asked Him whether He really was the promised King or whether Israel was to look for some other person to come in that capacity (Mattheew 11:2ff.). Jesus sent word back to him which was full of meaning, pointing out to him that all the promises of healing and cleansing and other miraculous signs which were to accompany the Messiah according to Isaiah 35:4-6 had manifestly been performed by Him during the past months. Jesus did not rebuke John for his doubts, a circumstance which I think is significant and from which we may draw a further conclusion -- namely, that the Lord Himself was quite aware of the problems which even believing Jews had in reconciling in His person the two roles He was playing. I think that Jesus was sympathetic to the confusion also of those who opposed Him -- in spite of the virulence of their hostility -- and that this sympathy was indeed the basis of His prayer from the cross that his Father would forgive them their terrible decision to put Him to death, in that they did not really know what they were doing (Luke 23:34). This

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fact is also noted by Paul (I Corinthians 2:8): "For had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." Moreover, in Peter's second sermon after the Crucifixion he reiterated the same thing when he said, "For I am aware, brethren, that ye did it in ignorance" (Acts 3:17).
     The circumstance is not without interest, because it suggests that the scribes and Pharisees and the rulers in Israel were not perhaps at first as inexcusably obstinate as we tend to assume. Three times John mentions in his Gospel that there was a division among them (7:43; 9:16; 10:19). Evidently there was not unanimity in rejection. In fact, in John 12:42 we are told that there were many believers even among the chief rulers. In John 8:28 I think the implication of the Lord's words could well be that they really did not recognize Him as Messiah, for He said that after they had crucified Him, then they would know that He was. Among those who may have been in the favouring party must be numbered Nicodemus, of course: but it appears that even Gamaliel tended to share Nicodemus' view. This seems reasonably clear from the record of Gamaliel's words in Acts 5:34-39, in which this very famous "teacher" in Israel tries to warn his colleagues that, while they are quite right not to accept too readily the claims of anyone as being the Messiah -- several impostors having quite recently pretended to be so -- yet they should not fall over backward in the opposite direction "lest perhaps they should be found even to be fighting against God." They were no longer acting in ignorance. This is quite clear from their own admission in Matthew 27:64 that if the Lord's body were stolen from the tomb by the disciples in order to be able to say that the Lord had risen from the dead, then "the last error shall be worse than the first." Thus whatever may have been true of their reasons for rejecting their Messiah before the Crucifixion, there is no doubt that their subsequent action in persisting in their rejection of Him after Stephen's sermon was totally inexcusable and had a profound effect upon their covenant relationship with God and its attendant signs and wonders.
     The signs and wonders which the Lord had been performing and to which He drew John the Baptist's attention, had begun within three or four days after John had officially presented Him as the Lamb of God. However, the first miracle which occurred in Cana of Galilee does not appear to have been performed in any sense as demonstration of His Messiahship. It was performed rather because of a sudden private emergency occurring at the wedding of a friend. John 2:1ff.). All the circumstances surrounding this first miracle seem

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to me to bear out the fact that Jesus was not performing it as part of His official presentation of His credentials as Messiah. And it is for this reason, I think, that when Mary first pointed out to Him the embarrassing situation which had occurred at the wedding, He replied to her in such a way as to indicate that it was not the proper place for Him to perform such a miracle. "Signs and wonders" were credentials -- credentials not appropriately presented before their time, to the wrong audience, and entirely in a private situation. Credentials must always be presented to the right people, at the appropriate time, and before the proper witnesses. Hence His words (John 2:4): "Mine hour has not yet come."
     We may gather from the Lord's conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, however, that other miracles had been performed in such circumstances as to fulfill the requirements in this respect. This man Nicodemus, a prominent member of the ruling class of Jews, was clearly aware of some of these miraculous activities, for he said (verse 2) "No man can do these miracles that thou doest except God be with him." From this we may conclude that the Lord had now officially begun to present Himself to the authorities as the promised Messiah by fulfilling the conditions which ranked first in their estimation as validation of that claim.
     In John 5 we have a particularly good illustration of this. Here was a paralytic who apparently neither expected nor asked for healing from this gentle rabbi who engaged him in conversation. Unasked, Jesus nevertheless healed him completely. He then instructed him to take up his bed and carry it away, even though He knew it was the Sabbath day and such an activity was strictly forbidden. This whole event seems to me to have been a test case, at most a provocation, to provide opportunity for Him to present His claims officially before the authorities. I do not think one can read from verse 17 onward without concluding, as many commentators have done, that the Jewish authorities were so appalled by the audacity of His claims that they called Him to account before some kind of court. The record of His "defense" seems to have been reported for us from verses 19 to 38. There are reasons for this opposition. First, it will be noticed that throughout these verses only, the first person pronoun ("I" or "me") is not used as it is everywhere else in this chapter; every remark is recorded as though by an observer, a kind of "Jewish Hansard." In the second place, there are very subtle but highly significant references to certain events made by Daniel regarding the Messiah, not the least of

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which is that His name would be "Son of Man"; it happens that when the Lord refers to Himself thusly in verse 27, He quotes precisely from the Septuagint of Daniel 7:13, which in this instance does not say "the Son of Man," which would have been a title, but simply "Son of Man" without the article, which therefore identifies it more as a name than a title. This is the only occasion in the New Testament in which the definite article is omitted when the phrase is used.
     In such a court, when a capital offense was being tried, the accused could only be condemned "by the mouth of two witnesses or more," and accordingly he could exonerate himself only by the mouth of two witnesses or more (Deuteronomy 17:6). The offense for which Jesus was being tried was indeed a capital one, i.e., one which demanded the death sentence if guilt were established. The whole situation arose not merely because He had challenged Jewish authority by instructing the paralytic to carry his bed contrary to law, but -- far more serious -- because He had claimed God as His very own Father. The Jewish belief in the fatherhood of God was common. It was based on Malachi 2:10: "Have we not all one father?" Had the Lord used the words "our Father" rather than "My Father worketh hitherto," it is quite possible His only offense would have been the instructions given to the paralytic regarding his bed. What really appalled the Jewish authorities was not only His reference to God as "My Father" (John 5:17), but what must have been His emphasis on the word My. That this seems to have been the case is borne out by their accusation in verse 18 that He had not only broken the Sabbath, but had claimed that God was His "very own Father" (so the Greek). For them, this was too much: it was outright blasphemy.
     And so the court called Jesus to account for his words. In his defense, He insisted not merely that his mission was divine, but that He Himself was divine. He claimed that He always saw eye to eye with the Father (verse 19), that nothing was hidden from Him (verse 20), that He would even raise the dead (verse 21), indeed, that in the great resurrection of the dead which they themselves believed in, it would be His voice which would bring them forth (verse 25). He claimed to have life in Himself (verse 26) and that it was He who would be the Judge of men when the great accounting came. He told them, in fact, that He was acting both for God and as God -- an unthinkable claim for mere man.
     Perhaps it was then that they demanded of Jesus two witnesses. He brought forth at once, as His first witness, John the Baptist, whom they themselves had already openly admitted. But He said He had a greater  

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witness yet in that no matter what He decided to do, God would support Him in it. He was about to perform such signs and wonders with such implications that if his Father were not with Him, God Himself would judge Him at once. One of these signs was that He would manifestly demonstrate his power to forgive sins, a power no man could claim -- only God. In Luke 5:24 He demonstrated that it was as easy for Him to say to a cripple "Thy sins be forgiven thee" as it was "Rise up and walk." The effect was precisely the same, which it could never have been unless his Father fully supported both claims.
     Apparently the Jewish authorities were so astounded by what He was proposing that they seem to have decided that they ought not to call Him to account until the second witness had been allowed to validate Him or condemn Him. In other words, the miracles which He performed were to have a double purpose: first, the alleviation of suffering; but even more importantly, the confirmation of his claim as Messiah. Jesus again and again drew attention to this fact, more particularly when some special feast brought the authorities to Jerusalem. Thus, in John 10:22-26, as Jesus walked in the temple of Solomon's Porch at the time of the Feast of the Dedication, the Jews came round about Him and said, "How long dost Thou make us to doubt? If Thou be the Messiah, tell us plainly." Jesus answered, "I told you, and ye believe not: the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of Me. But ye believe not . . . ."  In short, He was saying that although they demanded a second witness and He had constantly provided this witness, yet they still did not believe. It was clear that their preconceptions and their prejudices were not going to allow them to evaluate the evidence rightly. God had not merely broken His silence, He had done so and was indeed shattering it! Yet they could not understand.
      As long as such signs and wonders were being performed, God was actively demonstrating the reality of his covenant relationship with Israel. Once that active covenant relationship began to be undermined because of their rejection of Him as the Lord's Messiah, however, then signs and wonders became less and less frequent. Jesus, having by his miracles brought the authorities to the point where they must decide one way or the other, it seems that these authorities became divided into two camps -- on the one hand those who saw the challenge as a threat, and on the other those who saw it as a promise. It is clear that those who saw it as a threat ultimately predominated and soon reached the point where they positively decided that this so-called Messiah must  

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be stopped. They determined to put Him to death. And as soon as that decision had been taken in the higher courts of the nation, Jesus was at once aware of it (John 11:53, 54). From that moment He performed no more signs and wonders openly, publicly, in front of them, in demonstration of his claim as their promised King. He took steps to prevent those who were directly involved in miracles from publicizing them. Matthew describes the circumstances thus (Matthew 12:14-16):

     Then the Pharisees went out and held council against Him, how they might destroy Him. But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew Himself from thence and great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all; and charged them that they should not make Him known.

     But there was one notable exception, the raising of Lazarus. It was his final and conclusive demonstration to them that the dead would indeed hear his voice and come forth out of their graves. No other miracle could possibly have carried as much weight in validating his claims in the eyes of the Jews. The circumstances surrounding this tremendous event are very special and require looking into.
     It will be realized that the Lord had already raised two people from the dead. Again, the circumstances are highly significant. If we go back almost to the beginning of his ministry, we find Him first of all restoring to health a nobleman's son who was "at the point of death" (John 4:47). It appears that the next miracle of this kind was the raising of Jairus' daughter, who died while He was on the way to her home (Mark 5:35). The third incident is found in Luke 7:11-18, where the young man was actually being carried out to be buried (verse 12). We are told that when He delivered the young man alive to his mother, "there came a great fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, 'A great prophet is risen among us' and 'God hath visited His people'" (verse 16). The news of this event spread throughout Judea and all the region roundabout in a way that the other two "raisings" had not done. Each miracle had surpassed the previous one.
     Nevertheless, despite what may appear to the contrary according to our standards of judgment, the Jewish authorities may not have attributed the significance to these miracles that we might. The reason for this is that they commonly believed a man was not truly dead until the body had started to decay. This belief is shared in many parts of the world,
(29) and it may possibly have arisen because on occasion, people who are pronounced

29. Three days in the grave: see "If Adam Had Not Died", Part III in TheVirgin Birth and the Incarnation, vol.5 of The Doorway Papers Series, Zondervan Publishing Company. 

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dead revive. At any rate, because the initiation of decay was accelerated or slowed up by environmental conditions and in order to simplify the problem of making an official decision as to when "death" was certified, it was usual to state that a person was truly dead only after the third day. (30) The Jews could therefore have argued among themselves that neither Jairus' daughter nor the widow of Nain's son were really dead: Jesus had merely revived them; He had not actually raised the dead.
     It is this circumstance which explains the Lord's behaviour when He heard that a beloved friend, Lazarus, was dead. In John 11 we are told, first of all, that Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus (verse 5). We know therefore that what He was about to do was not for any lack of concern when it is recorded very specifically that He stayed where He was for two more days and only after that, said to his disciples, "Let us
go. . . ."  And so He arrived in Judea too late to anticipate Lazarus' death. There is no escaping the fact that He knew Lazarus would die before He arrived there for He said (verse 15), "I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent that ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him." At this point Thomas, who realized full well that the Jews were now out to destroy Him said heroically, "Let us go, too, that we may die with Him."
     By the time the Lord arrived at Bethany, which was quite near Jerusalem, He was told (though, of course, He knew it well) that Lazarus "had lain in the grave four days already" (verse 17). The rest of the story need not concern us in the present context, except to note that the body had by now begun to decay (verse 39).
     And then the dead heard His voice! Had He merely said, "Come forth!" who knows how many might have risen from their graves. But He called Lazarus by name, "and he that was dead came forth." And this, to the Jewish authorities, ought surely to have been the final validation. That it wasn't so only demonstrates the extraordinary extent to which prejudice and preconception can darken our understanding.
     The common people however, do not seem to have been quite so blind. Very soon afterward they welcomed Jesus triumphantly into Jerusalem, as He fulfilled the last prophetic vision concerning the Messiah: "Behold, thy King cometh, riding on an ass" (John 12:15). Yet, their adulation was soon undermined by the authorities.

30.  Note that in Revelation 11:7-11 the two witnesses are left lying in the streets for three days before their enemies allow themselves to rejoice over them, but half a day later God raised them to life again from the dead, just when their enemies thought they were in the clear. 

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     The trial that followed must surely have been unique in history, since without realizing what they were doing, the rulers exactly fulfilled the conditions in the choosing of any sacrificial lamb which was to be slain according to the Mosaic law. Without intending to do so, they demonstrated clearly from the evidence that the Lamb of God was absolutely "without blemish" (Acts 13:28), and then they condemned Him to death. In doing this, they precisely fulfilled the purposes of God and opened the way for personal salvation for all who should avail themselves of the sacrifice of the One whom they had rejected. At the same time, rejecting their own Messiah, they committed national suicide. Yet there was no alternative: it had to be this way.
     And so they were given one more opportunity to recover their identity as a chosen vessel. God graciously provided a reprieve, giving them one last chance to repent and acknowledge the Lamb of God as their Messiah after all.
     This reprieve was foreshadowed in one of Jesus' parables, the parable of the man who had a fig tree planted in a vineyard and who visited this fig tree three years in succession but found no fruit on it. The owner said to the gardener: "Cut it down, why does it encumber the ground?" But the gardener said, "Leave it for one more year and let me give it some special treatment during that interval, and then if it still does not bear fruit, let it be cut down" (Luke 13:6-9).
     As we have shown elsewhere, the fig tree seems to stand, in the chronicles of Israel, for her religious history -- the history of her priestly caste and her temple and its ritual. The vineyard consistently depicts her political and geographical history. Within this vineyard there existed a fig tree, i.e., within the nation there existed a religious core, more particularly epitomized by the temple complex (see the paper "Three Trees and Israel's History," Part II in Time and Eternity, vol.6, The Doorway Papers Series, Zondervan Publishing Company).
     Now, as far as we know, the Lord's official ministry appears to have involved three Passovers, exclusive of the last one at which He presented Himself as the Lamb. When He was twelve years old, He visited the temple during the Passover (Luke 2:41-50), but I do not think this visit can be included as part of his official ministry since He had not yet been presented to the nation by his forerunner, John the Baptist. But after his identification by John, we find Him visiting the temple at the time of the Passover (in John 2:13-16) undoubtedly, like the owner of the vineyard, expecting to find fruit on the fig tree. What He found instead was a den of thieves. The zeal with which He cleansed the Temple on this first occasion was not without effect, because it appears that  

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one year later, when He must certainly have visited the temple a second time, no such action was called for (John 6:4). If there was no fruit, at least it had not again become a den of thieves. But human wickedness recovers quickly after redress; upon the third occasion of His visiting the "fig tree," the old iniquitous situation was once more everywhere evident, and it became necessary to take the same remedial action and cleanse the temple afresh. This occasion followed his triumphal entry into the city after the raising of Lazarus (Matthew 21:12-17). Significantly, it was immediately after this that He cursed the barren fig tree (verses 18-20). Thus the owner of the vineyard had visited his fig tree for three years and found no fruit upon it: but the gardener - -and in this case both the Owner of the vineyard and the Gardener were one and the same Person -- determined to leave it one more year, on probation as it were.
     During that probationary year, after all the events of Jesus' crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension, Peter stood up and explained to the Jewish people in Jerusalem the true significance of those terrible days. He assured them that if they would even now repent and turn to the Lord, He would come back to earth as their glorious King and fulfill the second part of his predicted ministry, restoring to them their promised spiritual glory. Thousands of Peter's Jewish listeners, seeing the signs and wonders which accompanied the ministry of the apostles, turned to the Lord in repentance and faith, and they filled the temple with their joyful presence (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:42).
     Yet for all that, the heart of official Judaism was somehow hardened in its resolve to hold fast to the disastrous course they had embarked upon. In his preaching, Peter was at pains to point out to them (Acts 10:38) that the very miracles which had signalized the Lord's ministry from beginning to end were proof that God was with Him, that He was indeed their Messiah. But when Stephen addressed them gathered together as a kind of official body, and when he recounted to them how consistently throughout their history they had betrayed their calling, disobeyed the Lord's instructions, murdered his messengers, oppressed his people, and lived in defiance of their holy calling -- at that decisive moment they refused to listen. Instead of acknowledging the truth of Stephen's message, they utterly rejected his words and, as Scripture puts it, "gnashed on him with their teeth." And with their rejection of his words went their final rejection of the Messiah in whose name he appealed to them. When in their fury they turned on him and stoned him to death, the die was cast. No longer could

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they plead ignorance. Stephen was the messenger whom they sent afterward saying, "We will not have this man to rule over us" (Luke 19:14), and the Lord stood to receive the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:56).
     From that moment Israel was laid aside. For a while, individuals continued to enter the blameless family of God through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, which many of them had probably taken part in. But the testimony to the nation as a whole had essentially come to an end, and slowly a divine silence settled over the world as God's active covenant relationship with Israel was once more held in abeyance. The silence this time was not to last a mere four hundred years: it has already lasted for nearly two thousand.



     One of the Old Testament "signs" was the existence of men who spoke as they were directed to do so by God Himself. The very last prophetic statement uttered in Israel was made by Caiaphas. It sounded the death knell of their Messiah, but it also ended their existence as a nation. It is recorded in John 11:49-51:

     Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.
     And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation. 

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