Homily by Bishop Alexander of Argentina and South America
This year, at the end of the two-thousand-year existence of Christianity, everywhere there will be festive services, sermons preached and articles written, devoted to this significant jubilee. Doubtless, there will appear more exhaustive historical treatises summarizing that great beneficial transformation that Christianity has effected in human society from the time of its genesis. At the same time, we will undoubtedly also hear a lot of reproachful comments concerning those dark events that occurred within the bosom of the Church over the course of its long and complex historical path. We will be reminded yet again of the cruel Inquisition, of the Crusades, of church conflicts, of the depravity and hypocrisy of some of her leaders and clergy. There will be those who maintain that Christianity as a whole has failed, that in essence it is very attractive but that it is an unrealizable dream.
All these critics of Christianity must understand that it cannot be viewed solely on the plane of external events, because those forces that act upon it come from far beyond the bounds of this physical world. In reality, the whole world in general, and the Christian world in particular, are a field of the most intense, unrelenting, and cruel spiritual battle, which Satan and his hordes of demons are waging against God and the people He has created. Inasmuch as people, having sinned out of thoughtlessness and having fallen away from God, turned out to be too weak to repulse the onslaught of the powers of darkness, the Son of God was obliged to come into our world and to raise up a war against them. In order to help us in the battle against evil, He taught us how to believe rightly and how to live righteously. He constantly gives us spiritual strength to overcome temptations, to do good, to love God and our neighbor. He tirelessly defends us from all the wiles of the devil. On his part, the latter exerts all his power in order to prevent us from seeing the spiritual light; he tries to entangle us in contradictions, to burden us with earthly cares, to enslave us to sin. Only in this way can he carry us captive into his kingdom of darkness.
It is important to understand that each person, to a greater or lesser degree, is engaged in this spiritual war, whose front is not defined by any geographic, ethnic, or other external indicators, but which takes place in the very heart of each individual. Just as in a guerrilla war, this front is constantly shifting and altering, depending on the changes in the individual's conscious inclinations. No one, no matter how much he wants, can retreat and become a mere spectator of what is taking place, because our every thought, our every feeling, decision, word and act, even the smallest and most insignificant - determines either our victory or our defeat. At the end of our life a tally will be made and it will be decided who was victorious with Christ and who was taken into captivity by the enemy.
Particularly now, on the threshold of the approaching New World Order and those political, social and spiritual changes connected with it, we must remember that, according to Holy Scripture, before the end of the world the war for men's souls will become especially fierce. Foreseeing his imminent demise, the devil will intensify his efforts tenfold in order to destroy as many people as possible.
Scripture predicts that he will send countless false prophets and false messiahs, who will draw people into their pernicious cults. Then depravity and crime will increase immeasurably, faith will diminish, love will be extinguished, people will come to hate and to offend one another. Then there will come the last false prophet, Antichrist, who will surpass all his predecessors with his wickedness. He will brazenly declare that he is that messiah foretold by the prophets, and, in confirmation of this, with Satan's help he will perform astonishing signs and wonders. The press, television and all media of mass information will enthusiastically extol the new "genius leader," who will appear to bring to mankind peace, an abundance of good things and prosperity, so that many will believe in this liar and will renounce their Saviour.
In order to guard ourselves against these coming temptations, we must enliven within ourselves our faith in Jesus Christ as the true Minister of God. For this purpose we must turn to the word of God, which, in numerous prophecies concerning the Messiah, has set forth for us salient details concerning His Person and His activity on earth. For the interested reader we recommend the separate booklet, "The Old Testament concerning the Messiah." Here we shall just briefly bring to remembrance those prophecies that not only have already been fulfilled with astonishing precision in the Person of Jesus Christ, but that at the same time, very clearly and categorically, have excluded all other candidates for this calling. Here they are.
1. According to the prophecies of the Old Testament prophets, the Messiah must belong to the lineage of King David. (II Kings 7:1; Ps. 131:11; Jer. 23:5, 33:16; Ezek. 34:23-24, 37:24). Clearly, in order to verify the fulfillment of this prophecy, it is necessary to have an accurate genealogical record. Knowing the importance of this messianic sign, the Jews kept genealogical records of all the ancestors of David. These were kept in Bethlehem, where He was born. For this reason, when it came time for the birth of Jesus Christ, Joseph and the Virgin Mary, who were of the lineage of David, had to go from their town of Nazareth to distant Bethlehem, in order to be registered in the genealogical book of the new descendants of this king. These genealogical records were extant right up until the time of the destruction of Bethlehem. Utilizing them, the Evanglists Matthew and Luke were able to reproduce in their Gospels the complete genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1, Luke 3), and thereby to prove His generation from King David.
After the destruction of Bethlehem in AD 70, the Jews dispersed through all the countries of the world, the Holy Land became desolate, and the genealogical records perished. The surviving shoots from the lineage of King David intermarried with Jews of other tribes and even with foreigners, so that in our time it is impossible to prove that anyone is descended from King David.
2. According to the prophecy of the Patriarch Jacob (Genesis 49:10), the time of the coming of the Reconciler-Messiah should coincide with the loss by the tribe of Judah of its political independence. If one does not take into account the most ancient and insignificant elders of the tribe of Judah, then the first leader of this tribe was King David, who lived a thousand years before the Birth of Christ. Beginning with him, the tribe of Judah was ruled by his descendents, who reigned in Jerusalem. After the Babylonian captivity (five hundred years B.C.), the tribe of Judah was ruled by its tribal elders right up to the reign of King Herod the Great, some thirty years B.C. Herod, an Idumean by descent, had no relation either to the lineage of David or to the tribe of Judah. He secured the royal title through his ties with Rome and through court intrigues. For this reason his presence on the throne of the glorious David deeply wounded the sensibilities of the Jews, who regarded him as an unlawful usurper. During his reign the tribe of Judah lost completely its civil independence, and in this same period Jesus Christ was born, in fulfillment of Jacob's prophecy.
An interesting detail concerning this event was preserved in the Midrash, an ancient part of the Talmud. There it is related that when the members of the Sanhedrin learned that they had been deprived of the right to try criminal cases (in A.D. 30), they put on sackcloth and, tearing their hair, gathered and began crying out, "Woe to us, woe: it has been a great while since we had a king from Judah, and the promised Messiah is not yet come!" This occurred at the very beginning of Jesus Christ's ministry. He was that very Reconciler, Whom the Jewish elders did not know but Who, in the words of the angels, was to bring people God's good will (Luke 2:14). It should be added that from the time of the dispersion of the Jews throughout the world, the tribe of Judah lost not only its civil independence but even its tribal identity, as a recognizable, blood-related entity, due to mixed marriages with Jews of other tribes. Consequently, the prophecy of Jacob must already have been fulfilled.
3. The last Old Testament prophets: Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi, associated the coming of the Messiah with the existence of a second temple in Jerusalem. Returning from the Babylonian captivity to their own land some five hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ, the Jews set about restoring their ravaged land and ruined homes. On principle, many of them dreamed of rebuilding a temple on the site of Solomon's temple that had been destroyed, but they had neither the means nor the strength for such an undertaking. They consoled themselves with the fact that although the new temple would never compare with the first in terms of beauty or wealth, in its spiritual significance it would possess yet greater glory, because it was into that temple that the promised Messiah would come (Haggai 2:6-7; Malachi 3:1).
As we know from the Gospel (Luke 2:27; John 2:15-17; Matt. 21:12), Jesus Christ often visited this temple, both in his childhood and youth when He was taken there by the Virgin Mary and Joseph, and during his earthly ministry, when He preached in the temple. His love for this holy place was so great that He became angry and chased out of it all those who, whether by trading or some other unseemly behavior, defiled the House of His Father (John 2:16; Ps. 69:10).
Inasmuch as this temple was destroyed thirty-five years after Christ's Resurrection, so that according to the prophecy of Christ quite literally not a stone lay upon another stone (Matt. 24:2), the above-cited prophecies of Haggai and Malachi must have been fulfilled before that time. The Jews want to build on this same site a new temple. But this will be the third temple, concerning which the ancient prophets said nothing. This will be that temple that the Apostle Paul had in mind when he said that in it would sit the Antichrist (II Thes. 2:4).
4. Finally, the prophet Daniel foretold the exact time when the Messiah was to come (Dan. 9:24-27). This prophecy, known as the "Seventy times seven," encompasses the period from the beginning of the restoration of Jerusalem, destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, until the coming of Christ, the consolidation of the New Testament, and the second destruction of that city. This period, calculated in multiples of seven, will last altogether seventy times seven, or 490 years. In the order of events, these seven-year intervals are divided into parts: in the course of the first seven times seven Jerusalem and its temple will be restored. Then, towards the end of the following sixty-two seven-year periods Christ will come; He will suffer and be given over to death. Finally, during the last seven-year period the New Testament will be confirmed. After this Jerusalem will be the site of major social upheavals, as a result of which the offering of sacrifices will cease, and the sanctuary of the temple will be filled with an abomination of desolation. All this will culminate with the incursion of armies, which will destroy the city, as well as the temple.
The decree concerning the restoration of Jerusalem, which was to mark the beginning of the calculation of Daniel's seven-year periods, was given by the Persian king, Artaxerx Longinus in 453 B.C. (the 299th year from the founding of Rome). The text of this decree is given in the second chapter of the book of Nehemiah.
According to prophecy, the Messiah was to suffer for the sake of the cleansing of the sins of men in the period between the 69th and 70th seven-year period. If one adds 69 seven-year periods to the year when the above-mentioned decree was issued, one arrives at the year 30 of the Christian era. The Evangelist Luke writes that the Lord Jesus Christ began his ministry in the fifteenth year of the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius, i.e., in the 782nd year from the founding of Rome, and that He preached three and a half years, suffering and dying in approximately the 34th year of our era. After the Resurrection of Christ, the New Testament faith began rapidly to spread, which coincides with the end of the 70th seven-year period.
Jerusalem was destroyed for the second time in the 70th year of our era by the Roman general Titus, as it was foretold by Daniel. Daniel's prophecy so explicitly and synonymously points to Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah, that the Gemaric rabbi forbids his compatriots to calculate the dates of the Daniel septenaries, saying, "Those who calculate the times will hear their bones rattle." (Sanhedrin 97)
In this way both the times and the genealogy and the key moments connected with coming of the Messiah are stipulated in the Sacred Scripture in the most concrete and singular facts, which not only confirm the Messianic dignity of our Lord Jesus Christ, but definitely exclude all other pretenders, and in particular the last false Messiah - Antichrist.
All this was provided for by Divine Providence in order that we should believe steadfastly in our Saviour, cling to His teachings, and try to live as He taught us. Therefore, no matter by what cunning means the devil might try to draw us away from the Saviour, we can demolish them by our strong and well-grounded faith. It should be clearer than day to us that the true Messiah has already come: He is Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. All others are pretenders to this title [dignity?]; they are but wolves in sheep's clothing.
Just as one who has fallen into stormy waters grabs onto a lifesaver with all his might, so must we hold tightly to our Saviour. Only beneath His strong right hand are we safe from harm. Let us unceasingly thank Him for coming into our sinful world and for all those mercies that He abundantly pours out upon us unworthy ones.
Translated from the Russian
Subscribe (and order back issues) to
Order Books from Orthodox America
If you note problems with this site, please contact the Webmaster
© 1998-2006 by Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society