#18. Matthew, Prophecy & the Wise Men

We have returned to the time of year when we hear once again the story of the Wise Men—the Magi who came from the East, according to Matthew’s Christmas story (Matt 1-2).

In recent reading, I was noticing how much Matthew was concerned with the fulfillment of prophecy.  We encountered five, or possibly six, prophetic fulfillments in birth story from Matt 1:18 to 2:23:

1) Citing a verse from Isaiah 7:14, Jesus will be born of a virgin (Matt 1:22-23).

2) Jesus’ appearance fulfilled the prophecy of Micah 5:2 concerning His coming from Bethlehem.  And thus the chief priests and scribes advised the Magi to go to search in Bethlehem. (Matt 2:4-6). 

3) In 2:14-15, Matthew cites the family’s fleeing to Egypt and their later return as a fulfillment of  Hosea’s prophecy (Hosea 11:1) that God “called my son out of Egypt.”

4) He would be called a Nazarene (Matt 2:23) because, ultimately, He grew up in Nazareth.

5) Herod’s slaughter of the innocent children (Matt 2:16-18) is cited as the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:15.

But there is one more prophecy which was probably cited in the original version of Matthew. But the citation was later blotted out—most likely due to the political problems it would have caused:  The Roman empire, in the 4th century AD (when the books of the New Testament were being compiled) did not want to give any credence to the accuracy of the Prophet from its arch-rival, the Persian-Zoroastrian empire.

Fortunately, another version of the story of the Magi was preserved in the Syriac Infancy Gospel.  It was finally translated into English and published in 1697.

Let us compare two of the verses from both sources, which appear to be nearly identical phrase-to-phrase, if not word-to-word.  The King James version is in blue, the Syriac is in red for ease of comparison:
From Chapter 3 of the Syriac Infancy Gospel

There is one more prophecy which was probably cited in the original version of Matthew. But the citation was later blotted out—most likely due to the political problems it would have caused:  The Roman empire, in the 4th century AD (when the books of the New Testament were being compiled) did not want to give any credence to the accuracy of the Prophet from its current arch-rival–the Persian-Zoroastrian empire.

Fortunately, another version of the story of the Magi was preserved in the Syriac Infancy Gospel.  It was finally translated into English and published in 1697.

Let us compare two of the verses from both sources, which appear to be nearly identical phrase-to-phrase, if not word-to-word.  The King James version is in blue, the Syriac is in red for ease of comparison:

The phraseology is so similar, it almost certainly comes from a single source.  And yet, there is one major phrase (shown in italics above) which has disappeared:  “according to the prophecy of Zoradascht” (Zoradascht is another name for Zoroaster, the Prophet who founded the Zoroastrian religion about 1000 years before the birth of Jesus.)

In the days of Matthew, there would have been no political problem with citing Zoroaster as a source of accurate prophecy:  The Jewish people did not see Persian Zoroastrianism as a threat–Cyrus the Great was regarded as saintly for allowing the Jewish people to return from Persia to rebuild Jerusalem. Christianity had not yet become aligned with the Roman empire, and Zoroastrianism alignment with the current rulers of Persia was not particularly strong. (The Parthians had come down from central Asia after the decline of the Alexandrian/Greek empire, but were not strongly aligned to the Zoroastrians.)

Matthew wanted to show how Jesus’ coming was hugely important news.  It was not simply the fulfillment of Jewish religious prophecy—it was greater than that. It was also the fulfillment of prophecy of the great religion to the East—the Zoroastrian religion.  So he included the story of the Magi at the very beginning of his gospel.

And time has proven him right:  Later research into the Zoroastrian religion found that Zoroaster had made several references to new Messengers who would appear about once every thousand years.  (Indeed, the concept of the millennium as a typical span of time between religions can be traced to Zoroaster’s teachings.)  So the timing was right. The idea that a virgin would give birth is also found in Zoroaster’s teachings. And prophecies given by the conjunctions of stars or planets or comets or a “shower of stars” can also be found. Although the specific passage that guided the Magi has been lost to history, the concepts are clearly there. Thus, the assertion that the motivation for the journey of the Magi was a prophecy of Zoroaster becomes highly credible.

But the question remains, “Was it the star alone that impelled them to leave their native land and search for their promised Messenger in the land of the Jews?” This seems odd. Or did they have some knowledge of Jewish prophecies, left over from the time some 5 centuries earlier, when the Jewish people had been in their care in Persia? Did they perhaps notice that one of the time-related prophecies of Daniel (in Chapter 9) closely matched the time-related prophecies of Zoroaster? Could this be the reason that they came, specifically asking for “He that is born King of the Jews”?

The convergence of two different prophecies from two entirely different sources is a powerful argument for the validity of those prophecies.

And surprisingly, it has happened again in the modern era! Two very specific prophecies, entirely independent of each other–one from the Bible and the other from the Quran–pinpointed a single year more than a millennium before the event. Both converged on the year 1844 AD. Our fictional characters, Zach and James, in The Wise Men of the West, are in the process of discovering this very non-fictional fact, struggling to understand its implications and courageously following leads in order to find the Promised One during these, the Latter Days.

To follow them, to share in their discoveries and to open new doors for understanding the modern world:

#17. For Whom Were These Books Written?

The answer to this question is found in the Dedication at the start of Volume I:

To everyone who has humbly hoped to see,

or prayed to witness,

the coming of the Promised One

and to those who have longed to be

among the first generation of His followers

this book is dedicated.

Nor are these words in vain, for today, everyone who approaches this quest with sufficient humility and detachment, will, I firmly believe, be successful in their search. This book is written as a gentle guide, to aid in that search, and to remove the stumbling blocks that are often in the way.

It is not intended to be the final word, but rather to point the way and open the door to the most recent edition of the Word—which confirms the fundamental truths of the past, while providing the critical guidance so essential if our modern age is to unfold according to God’s providence. 

Jesus promised that “the spirit of Truth” would come Who would “guide us to all truth.” (John 16:13). That time has arrived. All must consider it and decide for themselves. We cannot outsource such an important decision to others who may be biased or have vested interests. But within each person God has placed the capability of recognizing His Word and affirming it, if we approach it with a pure heart.

And those who are part of the first generation—those who are capable of making the transition from the old to the new—are especially blessed, for this opportunity comes only once in millennium or so. 

Read on…

for the adventure of a lifetime…

#16.  Where Did the Lightning Strike?

Regarding Christ’s return, some of my posts have been answers to the question of “When?” Others are answers to the question of “How?”

Today, I want to focus on the question of “Where?”  That is to say, “Where should we be looking?”

For as the lightning cometh

out of the east…

so shall also the coming of the

Son of Man be. (Matt 24:27)

Jesus gave us an indication when He was describing His return during His last major sermon: For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.  —Matt 24:27

Today “the east” might be thought of as half of the globe.  But in the time of Jesus, it typically referred to the huge empire that had dominated the entire area east of the Holy Land for 433 of the previous 600 years:  The Persian Empire. 

The boundary between the Roman West and the Persian East was not far from the Holy Land.  Indeed, about 4 decades before Jesus’ birth, Persian forces under Pacorus I had temporarily succeeded in taking over both northern Israel and Jerusalem.  So Jesus’ reference to “the east” was in all likelihood a reference to the Persian Empire.

Moreover, Jesus had referred us to the prophecies of Daniel–a mere 12 verses earlier in this same sermon.  Daniel’s visions of the latter days occurred in the biblical land of Elam, which is today southwestern Persia.  Might it not be reasonable to expect that they would also be fulfilled in that same land?     

The quest of the spiritual explorers in our story, Zach and James, gradually takes them to this part of the world.  And here, the news of an unexpected discovery hits them like a thunderbolt.  In actual history, it hit the whole population of Persia like a thunderbolt, causing over 100,000 to throw off the shackles of past religious orthodoxy, even on pain of death.  Indeed, over 20,000 accepted death rather than recanting their new-found Faith.

And ever since this lighting struck in the Muslim east, its brilliance has shown all around the world, particularly Jewish and Christian west. Yet, there are still many who close their eyes tightly, thinking that nothing good could come out of the east.  And this, in spite of Jesus’ clear admonition to look to the ‘lightning’ in the east as a sign of the coming of the Son of Man.

For the whole story….

#15. The Strange Case of the Missing Messiah

The week, I’m adding a one-minute video which asks the question that led to the story: Why, in spite of the clear indications that He should have appeared at some point during the last two centuries, have we failed to find Him?

The Strange Case of the Missing Messiah

For your convenience, here’s the text from each scene, with some comments:
1) He said He would return at the end of the age…
2 & 3) He told us that the end of the age would come once…His gospel had been preached to all nations. All three references are found in Matt 24:3-14.
4) 200 years ago, this goal was achieved… Most historians acknowledge that Christian missionaries had reached all nations somewhere between the 1810s and the 1840s, depending how you define “nations”.
5 & 6) and His followers turned their eyes to the skies, in expectation. In the early 1800s, hundreds of thousands saw various signs in the skies and became followers of William Miller and other evangelists, who predicted the immanent appearance of Christ’s return, based on various biblical prophecies.
7-10) Since then we have witnessed the signs of the close of the age, and the opening of a new one. Scenes of advanced weapons of war, including nuclear weapons. Also a scene of the Jewish people returned to the Holy Land, as Jesus anticipated in Luke 21:24.
11 & 12) But for 200 years, our expectations of His appearance have remained unfulfilled… This has been the central puzzlement of prophetic Christianity since the 1840s, when the modern evangelical movement and the Second Great Awakening (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Great_Awakening ) suffered their “Great Disappointment” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Disappointment ) in 1844.
13) Were all the prophecies wrong?
14) Or did we simply misunderstand them?
15) Based on the true story of the Wise Men of the East –This modern story is an echo of the biblical story of how the Magi found the Promised One of their religion through their own religious prophecies.
16) The Wise Men of the West–which shows what we in the West might have found, if only we had been looking!

How did we manage to miss such an important event? The answer can be summed up in three words: As with the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ time, we were “blinded by literalism”.

To get your copy, either in paperback and via Kindle:

#14. The Light at the End of the Tunnel?

or the Tunnels in Crater Mountain

You’ve probably heard the phrase “the light at the end of the tunnel” as an expression of hope—that, although we are in a dark place, we will reach the end of that darkness and come out into the light. 

I have often heard it used as a way of describing the current state of religion.  Recognizing the decline of its influence over the course of the modern age, we feel that we are surrounded by the darkness of greed, evil and irreligion.  The Christian hope is that Jesus will return and set things straight.  His return is that light at the end of the tunnel.  Everyone is looking forward to that day when His appearance will provide the light and guidance we need to move forward toward the kingdom of heaven on earth.

What is interesting to learn is that other religions find themselves in a similar situation.  Whether it is the Jewish people waiting for their Messiah, or the Muslims awaiting the Mahdi, or the Hindu people awaiting the Kalki, or the Buddhist awaiting the fifth Buddha, or the Zoroastrians awaiting the Saoshyant of their faith, all seem to be aware that we are living in an age of spiritual darkness, and all are looking forward to their own light at the end of their own dark tunnel.

Everyone assumes that their tunnel will lead them toward the light, and the other tunnels are simply dead ends.  No one seems to have considered the possibility that this mountain could be shaped like a crater, and that the tunnels through the wall of this crater-mountain all point toward a single, common center, and that a single Being could appear at this center, who would thus be shining His light into all of the tunnels all at the same time.

Reaching the end of our tunnels and coming into the full light, we would see, for the first time, the ends of the other tunnels and the followers of other faiths streaming out from their tunnels and joyously circling around the Light.

But coming out of the tunnel is not easy.  Life in the tunnels is all we have known since the time we were born.  Leaving it means accepting changes and learning new things. Moving into the light means a new, larger awareness of our surroundings.  And many people resist change, even change that is good for them. 

Zach and James, the explorers in our story, do not resist change.  Their mission is to go in search of the coming of the Promised One of Christianity.  But as they search, they find that there is much more to the story than they ever anticipated.  It is truly a light shining our dark tunnels everywhere.  So, if you are tired of living in the darkness of the tunnel, we welcome you to step into the light!

It is a big step for many. To make the step easier you can follow the gradual awakening of Zach and James as their exploration unfolds in The Wise Men of the West.

Available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Wise-Men-West-Search-Promised/dp/173245115X

#13. The Mystery of 1260

–and Why Christianity Can’t Unravel It

Of all the numbers found in biblical prophecy, 1260 is the most baffling.  It seems very significant because it is mentioned in the two most prophetic books of the Bible—twice in the Old Testament Book of Daniel (7:25 & 12:7) and seven times in the New Testament Book of Revelation (11:2, 3, 9 & 11; 12:6 & 14 and 13:5).  Sometimes it is given as 1,260 days while other times it is given as 42 months (x 30 days = 1260 days) and still others give it as 3-1/2 years (= 42 months) or more poetically as “a time, times and the dividing of times” (1 + 2 + 1/2 years).  But all 9 references refer to the same period of 1260 “days” which, in the language of prophecy, is 1260 years.

Aside from its frequency, it is also the only prophetic number which appears in BOTH Testaments.  Daniel’s other prophecies include other well-known numbers such as 2,300 “days” and 490 (70 “weeks”).  But these numbers are not found again anywhere in the New Testament. The Revelation of St. John mentions “666” and “144,000” but these are not found in the Old Testament.  However, 1260, alone, is found in both Testaments. It must have some great significance.

A Mysterious Prophetic Number

But looking back over history, can anyone find a 1260-year period which was so especially significant that it would bear repeating in so many passages?

Biblical scholars have had no success in unravelling this mystery.  Joachim of Fiore, a 12th-century monk, proclaimed that it indicated that Christ would return in 1260 AD to initiate a new age. Clearly, that did not happen.  Isaac Newton, who studied biblical prophecy in-between his studies of physics, anticipated the date as being the end of Pope’s power as a ruler of both the Church and the Catholic state.  Since that started with Charlemagne in 800 AD, his prediction was 2060 AD.  But it missed the mark by a couple of centuries–the Catholic state ended in 1870 when the Pope became a “prisoner of the Vatican”.

The famous unraveller of biblical prophecy of the 1830s-1840s, William Miller, whose work initiated the modern evangelical movement, seemed to struggle with this.  He finally settled on a rather complex formula, in which 1260 years was simply one of four periods leading up to 1843-44.  None of the other three periods had been clearly mentioned in biblical prophecies.  This was not a very satisfactory solution.

The problems was that no one recognized that prophecy serves as a link between religions.  The prophecies of the Old Testament are often links to the coming of Jesus.  An ancient prophecy of Zoroaster gave the Persian Magi (i.e. “the Wise Men of the East”) the directions they needed to find Jesus at the time of His birth, providing a Zoroastrian-Christian link.  Therefore, could the answer to the riddle of the 1260 prophecy possibly lie outside of the Christian realm?  If so, how would Christians ever find it, since they continued to regard everything outside of Christianity as heretical and unworthy of attention? 

Indeed, it would require traveling to the east, beyond of the Christian realms, before Zach and James could discover the startling answer to this riddle.  And you will share in their amazing discovery, as you read chapters 9, 10 and 11 of Volume I. 

Available at Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Wise-Men-West-Search-Promised/dp/173245115X

#12.  ASK—The Search for Truth

A-S-K is a convenient acronym for Jesus’ instructions to everyone who is sincerely searching for truth: 
Ask, Seek, Knock.

In Matthew 7:7-11, He says:

Ask, and it shall be given you;

seek, and ye shall find;

knock, and it shall be opened unto you:

For every one that asketh receiveth;
and he that seeketh findeth;
and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children,
how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?

Today there are many problems in the world.  Almost a million Americans have died of a new disease; wars loom in various areas, racial problems, environmental disasters, gun violence, economic turbulence causing poverty.  But arguably the largest is simply that we do not seem to have one reliable source of guidance.  Religious leaders are confused and often speak against each other, or worse, lead people astray in many ways.

We know that Christ promised that He would return.  We see several indications that the end of the old age has come and we are now living in a new age, which sorely needs new guidance.  And yet, our religious leaders do not encourage us to sincerely go out and search—ask, seek and knock.  They would prefer that we should simply remain in place until some huge miracle occurs that everyone can easily see.  But that was not the way things happened in Jesus’ day.  It is not the way things happen today either.

Waiting was NOT what Jesus told us to do.  He said we should, humbly and sincerely, ask, seek and knock.  Be willing to make the effort. Then pray for God’s guidance and be open to new possibilities. 

This is exactly what Zach and James have done in The Wise Men of the West
Not content to sit and wait, they are willing to travel to the Holy Land and beyond, to ask anyone they meet, to seek, and to knock on new doors.  And although they are fictional characters, what they discover is entirely non-fictional. It is something that has been gradually growing ever since that time—something that provides answers to the problems that bedevil the modern age.    

Make the effort to knock, and the door shall be opened. Once opened, have the courage to step through it and into the realm of light.

#11. Does Evangelicalism Need to be Saved?

And if so, how?

I’d like to devote this week’s comments to the lead article in this past New York Times Sunday Review section (Feb 6, 2022) article called “Dissenters Trying to Save Evangelicalism” by David Brooks. It was an eye-opening look at problems within the American evangelical movement, highlighting some of the real divisions created in recent times, and asking what can be done? 

Problems mentioned in the article include:

–Attitudes about race
–Politics creating disunity within congregations
–Religious leaders unable to practice the sexual standards they preach
–Concepts of rugged masculinity
–Absence of brotherly love
–Celebrity worship
–Lust for power
–Loss of interest in faith among the young
–Faulty religious organization and decision-making processes
–Culture wars based on moral dilemmas
–Learning how to live in a multi-religious society
–Learning how to separate facts from fiction, rumor or spin
–Bringing positive ideals into daily life through action and community service
–Learning about faith in one’s living rooms rather than in churches

How can we escape these dilemmas?  Can we create a religion that addresses them all?  Who would have the authority to establish it?  Or is this something that only God could do?

The most surprising and blessed answer is this:  It has already been done for us. 

But understanding this requires us to re-calibrate and adjust our thinking in many significant ways.  And the easiest and most reliable way to do this is to turn the clock back to 1844—the year we took a wrong turn by looking up when we should have looked east.

If we want to move forward toward a future which avoids all of the problems listed above, we need to make a journey to the East in those days, and discover what some very wise men discovered back then.

To find the whole story:

#10. Can You Bear Them Now?

Someone recently asked me if he could have the “Cliff Notes” version of the book.  “You know—the short synopsis.”  I had to answer, “I’m sorry, but no, there are no shortcuts”.
And the reason for this is that it contains truths that many readers may find difficult to bear.  To make it possible for the reader to bear these truths, I’ve created a story in which the main characters gradually reach conclusions which they would not have been able to reach if they had not lived through their traveling experience.  Similarly, many readers themselves will be only be able to understand and accept these truths if they travel along through the story rather than jumping ahead to its end.

In Jesus’ final discussion with His disciples, just before He was betrayed by Judas, He spoke of the many things which His followers would learn at a future time, when they would be capable of understanding and bearing these larger truths.  In the Gospel of John, Chapter 16, He said,

12 I have yet many things to say to you, 
   but you cannot bear them now. 
13 When the Spirit of truth comes, 
   he will guide you into all the truth; 
   for he will not speak on his own authority, 
   but whatever he hears he will speak, 
   and he will declare to you 
   the things that are to come.

These verses show us that God, in His mercy, teaches us only according to our capacity to understand at the time of the teaching.  In the future, when we can understand more, He once again sends forth “the Spirit of truth”–a Prophet who can “declare to you the things that are to come.”  Jesus did not described the future re-appearance of the Spirit of truth in physical terms.  But in the next two verses, He simply gives us some spiritual criteria to look for, and He makes it clear that, although the Spirit of truth will be similar to Him, it will not be the same as Him:

14 He will glorify me, 
   for he will take what is mine 
   and declare it to you. 
15 All that the Father has is mine; 
   therefore I said that he will take what is mine 
   and declare it to you.

What does this tell us about the next message coming from God?

First:  Although it will be similar in many respects to Jesus’ message, it will NOT be the same as the message given previously.  The Spirit of Truth teaches us new things—things that would have been too difficult for the disciples of Jesus’ age to bear back in that age.

Second:  These new teachings may be difficult even for us to bear today.  If, in Jesus’ day, the teachings were too difficult for the disciples to understand, they may still be somewhat difficult for us to bear in our more modern times. If new teachings were easy, we would not need a renewed appearance of the Spirit of Truth to provide them to us.

One of Jesus’ teachings was to de-emphasize the literalism in the Jewish manner of following the laws of Moses.  (See Matt 5:17 to 7:29).  It had become rigid and spiritually lifeless.  But even this teaching was too much for the Pharisees and other religious leaders of Jerusalem to bear. Generally, religious leaders are the least able to bear any new teachings. Therefore, it becomes the responsibility of each individual to weigh the truth of any new teachings for him/herself. One cannot ask others to decide for them.

This was God’s way in the past, testing those who claim to be followers. It remains His way today.

To follow Zach and James as they pursue their quest, expand their horizons and learn more about the coming of the Spirit of Truth:

#9. The Angel Gabriel was Always Right

Almost everyone has heard something about the Angel Gabriel, who announces, in one way or the other, the coming of the Messiah.

I knew that he had appeared twice in the New Testament—once to announce the coming of John the Baptist to John’s father (Luke 1:8-24) and once to announce the coming of Jesus to Mary, His mother (Luke 1:26-34).

I had always assumed that Gabriel had appeared many times in the Hebrew Bible.  So I was surprised to discover that he is actually mentioned only twice in the entire Old Testament.  Moreover, both mentions come from the same book—the Book of Daniel.  And in fact, they are associated precisely with each of the two prophecies of Daniel which led William Miller to his conclusion about the coming of the Promised One in the year 1844. 

The first was a vision that occurs in Daniel 8:11-17 concerning the “cleansing of the sanctuary” after “2,300 days” (understood, in the language of prophecy, to refer to 2,300 years).

The other was the vision of Daniel 9:21-27, which speaks of the “70 weeks” (= 490 days = 490 years also in the language of prophecy).  This describes a time when the Messiah shall “be cut off” (from this world i.e. killed). And for a starting date, he provides a reference to an event that historians have been able to accurately date as 457 BC.

And thus, the vision of Daniel 9 brings us precisely to the year that Jesus was crucified. 

Using the same start date, the first vision from Gabriel (regarding the 2,300 years from Chapter 8) brings us exactly to the year 1844!  This one was described by Gabriel as a vision “at the time of the end” (8:17).

So it is not surprising that William Miller and his followers were convinced that 1844 marked the date of the coming of the Promised One. 

Indeed, how could anyone possibly suggest that the vision of Gabriel proved exactly accurate with respect to the birth of both Jesus and John in Luke, and also with respect to the prophecy of the crucifixion of Jesus in Daniel 9, and yet was somehow wrong with respect to the coming of the Promised One “at the time of the end” in 1844, as described so precisely in Daniel 8?

But if the Angel Gabriel was right when announcing that the fulfillment would occur in 1844, what does that mean for us today? We must have missed something very important!  The time has come for us to look back to find what we may have missed.

So join Zach and James during that crucial year, as they return to the land of Daniel’s vision, in search of the Promised One of the Latter Days to find the real answers to this historic mystery. What they found not only met, but actually far exceeded, their greatest expectations.

Find their story in The Wise Men of the West available on Amazon: