Matthew 2: Newton’s Third Law

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Matthew 2: Newton’s Third Law

The children of Israel existed for 4,000 years in a state of anticipation, waiting for God’s promised Redeemer. But they were not alone in awaiting His coming; darker forces were at play in this great controversy, and the extent of their sabotage becomes crystal clear in Matthew 2. The chapter begins as follows:

 

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. (Matthew 2:1-3)

 

Notice here the baffling contrast presented between the wise men and the Jews. These men “from the East” have read the Biblical prophecies concerning the Messiah; they understand them; they have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him. Doubtless they anticipated Jerusalem to be abuzz with recent tidings of His birth.

 

But in stark contrast to their innocent assumptions, the wise men arrive to discover a nation wholly ignorant of the climactic events occurring around them. Furthermore, their query sends Jerusalem into a panic. Indeed, as Scripture records it, “he [Herod] was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matthew 2:3).

 

How can it be that the Jewish people–a people whose very existence centered around the promise of a coming redeemer–find themselves wholly ignorant of the arrival of said redeemer? In The Desire of Ages, Ellen White well captures this baffling misalignment of intentions and actions. She writes,

 

For more than a thousand years the Jewish people had awaited the Saviour’s coming. Upon this event they had rested their brightest hopes. In song and prophecy, in temple rite and household prayer, they had enshrined His name. And yet at His coming they knew Him not. (Desire of Ages, pg. 27)

 

Curiously, this historic blind spot was not merely recorded in the New Testament; it was also clearly prophesied in the Old Testament. Isaiah 53:2-3 records it as follows:

 

For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

 

But why? What tectonic shift in theology, morality, or culture could result in a mistake of such magnitude? How could God’s people find themselves surprised—unprepared for the fulfillment of the one prophecy, the one promise, around which their entire belief system found its center and foundation?

 

In this case, truth may not be stranger than fiction, but it happens to be a great deal more fascinating. Within the long and storied history of the Jewish nation there exists a logical progression of theological and philosophical errors which, having been introduced early on in its history, were progressively inculcated into every aspect of Israel’s national identity and culture. It was this logical progression of erroneous thinking and practice, which led directly to Israel’s rejection of the Messiah. Ellen White begins her analysis as follows:

 

He [God] had called them to preserve among men the knowledge of His law, and of the symbols and prophecies that pointed to the Saviour. He desired them to be wells of salvation to the world […] But the Israelites fixed their hopes upon worldly greatness. From the time of their entrance to the land of Canaan, they departed from the commandments of God, and followed the ways of the heathen. (Desire of Ages, pg. 27-28)

 

Israel began her fall through a simple change in orientation. Implicitly rejecting centuries of faithfulness to God and to His promises, she instead grasped for worldly acclaim, status, and greatness, falsely believing that such an achievement would fulfill her ambitions and glorify her God.

 

This shift in ambition precipitated a progressive departure from the principles and standards which had rendered Israel a beacon of hope in a dying world. Thus God chose to intervene, through Israel’s captivity in Babylon, in order to redeem the soul of His nation. Ellen White continues:

 

By the Babylonish captivity the Israelites were effectively cured of the worship of graven images. During the centuries that followed, they suffered from the oppression of heathen foes, until the conviction became fixed that their prosperity depended upon their obedience to the law of God. But with too many of the people obedience was not prompted by love. The motive was selfish. They rendered outward service to God as the means of attaining to national greatness. (Desire of Ages, pg. 28-29)

 

Humbled as she was, Israel still stubbornly grasped for worldly ambition. She still sought greatness in the eyes of the world. However, her means of attaining this goal shifted from the one extreme of careless law-breaking, to the alternate extreme of obsessive law-keeping. She now sought for prosperity and the fulfillment of national ambition through a stringent obedience to the law of God.

 

However, this obedience was increasingly rendered at the cost of true love and devotion to God. Its purpose became obscured through self-centered motives. Ellen White expands on the logical conclusion to this lop-sided theology:

 

As they departed from God, the Jews in a great degree lost sight of the teaching of the ritual service. That service had been instituted by Christ Himself. In every part it was a symbol of Him; and it had been full of vitality and spiritual beauty. But the Jews lost the spiritual life from their ceremonies, and clung to the dead forms. They trusted to the sacrifices and ordinances themselves, instead of resting upon Him to whom they pointed. (Desire of Ages, pg. 29)

 

Through a mutation of their national identity, the services, rites, and rituals which had been established by God as a reminder of Christ’s coming were stripped of their meaning and significance. Thus, the Jews lost sight of the true meaning of the sanctuary service, and began to interpret prophecy and history through the lens of national ambition. “Pride obscured their vision. They interpreted prophecy in accordance with their selfish desires” (Desire of Ages, pg. 30).

 

However, the Jews did not commit this startling blunder exclusively of their own volition. Beneath the surface, a darker, deeper narrative was at play. Returning to the original promise of a redeemer in Genesis 3:15, we read,

 

And I will put emnity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.

 

 

The promise of a coming redeemer foretold not only the redemption of humanity, but also the destruction of Satan and the evil, which he had instigated. The future of Satan’s very existence hinged upon the destruction of the Messiah and the degradation of God’s people. Thus the war began. “For four thousand years, Christ was working for man’s uplifting, and Satan for his ruin and degradation. And the heavenly universe beheld it all” (Desire of Ages, pg. 759).

 

Having done all in his power to prevent the birth of the Savior, and having failed in that task, Satan proceeded to do everything in his power to destroy, or to otherwise make of none effect, the life of God’s dear Son, the redeemer of humanity.

 

It was this spirit of hatred, which led Satan to seek to destroy Christ at the dawn of His earthly life; he harnessed the fear and jealousy of King Herod in order to destroy Christ as an infant. Matthew 2:13-18 records the attempt on His life as follows:

 

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.” When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”

 

Thus began a long and arduous earthly conflict between Christ and Satan throughout the earthly life of Christ. Every advance made by Christ was opposed; every step forward was resisted; every attack on Satan’s stronghold was counter-attacked with frightening ferocity. Ellen White puts it thusly:

 

When Jesus came into the world, Satan’s power was turned against Him. From the time when He appeared as a babe in Bethlehem, the usurper worked to bring about His destruction. In every possible way he sought to prevent Jesus from developing a perfect childhood, a faultless manhood, a holy ministry, and an unblemished sacrifice. (Desire of Ages, pg. 759)

 

In the late 17th century, Isaac Newton published his now-ubiquitous laws of motion, laying the foundation of classical mechanics. Formally stated, his third law articulates that “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This law of motion serves as a helpful analogy for the underlying antagonistic narrative present in each and every phase of Christ’s life.

 

From His birth to His death, He waged an invisible war against unrelenting foes, neither side willing to surrender or retreat, both working for the eventual defeat and destruction of the other. It was this conflict, which would come to characterize the life of Christ, and lead to His eventual crucifixion.

Read the rest of the Gospel of Matthew series by Seth Roberts.

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About the author

Seth Roberts

Seth Roberts is Compass Magazine's managing editor and is currently completing a business degree through Excelsior College. Over the past five years, he has led out in literature evangelism programs across Australia, Asia, and the United States. He currently serves as president of GYC Northwest.