The Christian Belief in a Nutshell

The first installment of Grahame Belton’s Christianity series can be found here.

I’ve argued that the apostle Paul’s gospel was not his own invention, but that everything he taught was “according to the scriptures”. Everything he taught could be found in the Hebrew prophecies.

The gospel that Paul preached was precisely the same as the other apostles preached. After his conversion he went away into Arabia and had no contact with the other Apostles. When he came back to Jerusalem he discovered that the gospel that he preached was precisely the same as that which the other Apostles were preaching and so he was welcomed into their number. But what was it that Paul preached?

The text tells us: “… how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)

The central theme of the gospel is seen in Paul’s words. Remove the foundational truths of the death and resurrection of Christ and the whole fabric of the Christian belief falls.

It says that first of all he died. Jesus’ death occurred exactly as the scriptures had predicted. “They shall look on him whom they pierced”–The quotation is from Zechariah 12:10; direct from the Hebrew. The choice of the words employed both by the prophet and the Evangelist for “piercing” matches exactly what happened to Christ on the cross. The word in Zechariah means to thrust through with spear, javelin, sword, or any such weapon. And where they nailed him to the cross can also be found in Psalm 22 where we read, “They pierced my hands and my feet.” The word there used for pierced is one signifying to bore as with an awl or hammer. In fact if you read the whole of Psalm 22 you will see a vivid description of the crucifixion of Christ, and it can also be seen written in the prophesy of Isaiah in chapter 53.

When the so called Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, there was much of the Hebrew scriptures found there which actually dated to the time of Christ or 100 years before him. There is a complete scroll of Isaiah as well, and when compared to those copies of which we have today, which are dated to around 900 AD they were to be found identical, with just a few grammatical variations. The entire prophesy was entact. So we have, as did the apostle Paul, a reliable source from which to take our teaching of the gospel.

Now, why did Christ die and why do Christians believe in his death?

We are told that there was something special about it. He died “for our sins”. The apostle tells us that Christ’s death was foretold in the Scriptures, that is the ancient Hebrew Scriptures. The canon of the New Testament was not yet made up, so the Christians of those days used the Hebrew Scriptures (most of the early church was Jewish) and some of them being Greek had also the Old Testament Greek version of those scriptures, called the “Septuagint”.

“For our sins”. What does that mean? Well what do the Hebrew scriptures say about it? Look at the prophesy of Isaiah, chapter 53, the same prophesy that Paul would have looked at. Isaiah was known as the evangelical prophet, because much of his prophesy is to do with the coming Messiah, or Christ. The whole of Isaiah 53 speaks of Christ’s sufferings and death. In fact this Messianic scripture begins at chapter 52, but just for shortness we will pick out just a couple of verses (Isaiah 35:4-6): “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

We know it was often used by the early Christians in their preaching as can be seen in the Acts of the apostles (Acts 8:30-35). This scripture and many more were used by the apostle Paul and other early Christians to show that Jesus was indeed the expected messiah. What Paul was saying was that this coming Messiah had already come and that one was Christ. Christ himself also confirmed this to his own disciples after his resurrection, according to Luke’s gospel.

Now, here is one of the messianic sayings of Daniel. Its meaning would not have been understood until after Christ died, which makes it all the more astounding. Here it is, (Daniel 9:25-26) “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.” Here among other things it speaks of Christs death, “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself…” It also speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem that was to follow many years after that. These scriptures demonstrate that Christ died for his people, that their sins were to be washed away by his death. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

Christ’s sacrifice is what the Hebrew Scriptures prophesied about. It is like a golden thread that runs through the Scriptures. It disappears for a while under the fabric only to reappear again elsewhere.

Once, the great question that perplexed the righteous Job was “how should man be just with God?” Here was a righteous man, but he could see that no matter what he did he could never be good enough to stand before God. For God dwelt in that light unto which no man could approach. He saw that his sin was a barrier to his fellowship with God. And a Christian is someone who has come to the same conclusion, but he has also seen that Christ and the sacrifice he has accomplished on the cross has broken down that barrier between man and God so that he can now have unbroken fellowship with Him.

This is what the gospel is about. This is the simple pivot point upon which the Christian faith rests.

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