Lesson 5 – What did Mary really know from her discipleship, the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord, His Ascension, and the Holy Ghost?

(This is the last of the series on our study of Mary. I hope you have enjoyed, and that it has prepared you for the “arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah” celebration next week!)

By the time that Jesus Christ’s ministry begins, Mary has a pretty good idea that her son had some very specific duties to accomplish for God, and his effort is going to bring salvation to both the Jews and the Gentiles. She has been warned by Simeon that there will one day come to her soul a deep sorrow; she senses this is not going to be an easy journey with her son. But it is a journey that she bravely makes, and we catch glances of her throughout Christ’s ministry, crucifixion, and after His Resurrection. This lesson will examine the things we are able to know about Mary that will reveal what she knows during the time Christ is actively doing His Father’s business.

Mary’s Discipleship

In fact, it is Mary that initiates Jesus’ miracle ministry at the marriage feast of Cana; it seems righteous and planned that the blessed mother of Jesus Christ gets to be the one that starts the journey that will one day save Believers. It is well-earned; she is obedient fully to God’s will.

Mary learns that a wedding celebration that she was attending in Cana of Galilee had run out of wine. She goes to her son, and informs him that the wine is out, and He replies “Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.” (John 2:4) Apparently, his mother disagreed, and instructed the servants, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.” (John 2:5) Mother Mary has been moved by God through His Holy Spirit and Angel Gabriel many times in her life and has received numerous prophecies that indicate it is her son that is the Messiah. There should be no doubt that God gave Mary the singular honor of initiating the first miracle accomplished by Christ at the start of His ministry. There should also be no doubt that God wanted to begin Christ’s ministry with the typological significance of supernatural change of water to wine. The water of God’s grace surges through Christ, as the blood of the grapes changes to wine through His power, and creating shadows of the last Passover celebrated by Jesus, and his connection of the wine to his shed blood (Matthew 26:27-29).

And so His ministry begins (John 2:1-11). He instructs the servants to fill the waterpots with water, and then draw out of them the wine, and take it to the governor of the feast for tasting. They do as Christ instructs, and watch as the governor samples the wine changed from water. Not only is the wine fully developed, but it is the best that wine can be. This act of changing water into wine manifested forth his glory, and his disciples believed on him (John 2:11). Mary’s pride that her son has reached the place God intends and maybe a bit of relief that she has done her duty of raising Jesus well must have stirred her emotions, as she watches her Son’s miracles unfold.

Capernaum

Mary goes with Christ, his disciples and his brethren to Capernaum during the Passover celebration (John 2:12). When they arrive, they find that there are money-making opportunities that are being exploited in the temple. Christ carefully makes a scourge of small cords, and drives them all out of the temple with his whip; “Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.”

Then, the Jews ask Christ a question of his actions; His answer reveals a future event that will play the utmost importance in every Believer’s life from here to eternity: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” (John 2:18) Once again, Mary hears future prophesy, this time from her Son’s own lips; Scripture does not have to add the bit about her pondering, because we know Mary well enough by now to know that is exactly what she does. The second ministry act of the Son of God is not a miracle ministry but a judgment ministry. The unfolding character of Christ’s ministry, with its numerous natures required by God, shows those who are with Him that their future journey with Him will be dramatic and unpredictable, as the New Testament of Christ delivers salvation to sinners.

A witness from afar

Mary is not in the inner circle of Christ’s ministry. Often, we see her standing on the outskirts watching from afar, as the Son of God ministers the Word. But, she is not a constant presence, as evidenced by the questioning about being the carpenter’s son and his mother Mary in Matthew 13:53-58. Jesus replies, “A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house;” and he did not many works there because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:53-58; Mark 6:1-6). This exchange not only explains why Mary does not participate fully in Christ’s ministry because He often is away in other locations, but also captures the common reputation that Mary holds in her community; they certainly did not think her to be a goddess, but just Mary, wife of carpenter Joseph, and mother to Jesus, James, Joses, Simon, and Judas, and her girls.

One time, while Jesus is talking to the people, Mary and his brothers stand on the outskirts of the crowd, and desire to speak with him. Jesus tells them, “Who is my mother? And who are my brethren?” Then he stretches his hands towards his disciples and says, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50). This exchange is often noted among Bible scholars to reflect different ideas, according to the point they are making. Some mention his harsh rejection of his mother, and other say the harshness is projected toward the people and meant to be a lesson in how to follow Christ. But for our purposes in the examination of the character of Mary, it reveals a deep message from the Son of God to her. He reminds Mary through these words that He is no longer her son, but rather, her Lord, and that transition must be made if she is to do the will of God in heaven. Mary is a “disciple of Christ first, before she was even his mother, for had she not believed, she would not have conceived.”[1]

Mary’s Heartbreak and Joy

Christ’s Crucifixion

How do we examine the character through the sorrowful eyes of Mary as she watches her naked son hanging in the deepest agony upon the cross? Even contemplating that heartbreaking moment from the perspective of Mary seems as if we are looking upon her own nakedness, and we want to look away.

Followers of Jesus Christ feel experience His passion and often have bipolar responses to His crucifixion. On one hand, our Lord suffers terribly, feeling every pain of original sin as He offers His life to redeem ours. This complicates our emotions, with gratefulness mixed with sadness; then as we celebrate His Resurrection which promises us eternal life, we jump for joy and praise God for His eternal blessings and graces, that have given us salvation through His Son.

But, Mary is not experiencing the end of the story. The baby she held to her breast, the supernatural teachings that both she and he receive from God, his childhood focus on doing God’s will, his compassion and obedience shared with his mother; when she is in his presence, she feels the presence of God. Moments away from His death, Jesus speaks his first words from the cross to the woman who first committed unconditional love to him: “Behold your Mother!” In his last moments of life, Jesus remembers to care for His mother that remains obedient to God, even in her sorrow (John 19:25-27). How profane it is that these memories of supernatural power that have been in her presence for thirty-two years, now finds him hanging upon a cross naked and bleeding and crying out to God, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). She sees and hears and feels the passion of her Lord; she must have surely collapsed in grief and pain and doubt, as her baby boy and her promised Savior dies exposed and seemingly without God.

Christ’s Resurrection

Mary ponders her entire life; every bit of information that God has given her directly, through the Holy Spirit, the Angel Gabriel, her husband and kin, and through her Lord Jesus Christ, is filed away in her mind and heart. She remembers the conversation they have together at the wedding in Cana, when He spoke of His “hour,” which is yet His future; is this the time of God fully expressed, or the wickedness of man that hung her baby upon the cross?[2] So many comparisons to that first ministry of Christ and then His crucifixion give her thought in those three darkened days that she is without Him. At the wedding in Cana, Jesus alters His relationship with His mother and transfers His obedience to God, and while at His crucifixion, He alters His relationship to her by transferring her motherhood reliance to His beloved disciple.[3] Jesus referred to the future as His “hour” at Cana, and He fulfills His “hour” at Golgotha.[4] Jesus’ glory is first manifested at the wedding, and the Father’s glory will soon be manifested in three days.

PRAISE GOD HE IS RISEN!

“And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them. And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.” (Luke 24:1-53)

The Lord Jesus Christ rises from the grave on the third day. He resurrects and He lives forever more. He dies for sinners and becomes their Redeemer through the promise of salvation given by God.

Though only a few names are listed that see Him in those forty days, it should be expected that every disciple of Christ hears the news when the supernatural event of such magnitude, that the Lord Jesus Christ, their Savior, rises from the grave into a glorified, resurrected body. Though His mother Mary is not mentioned in these accounts, we know in our hearts and minds that she is one of the first that is told He has risen. What uncontained joy she must have felt when she first heard the Word that her Lord and Savior has risen, and all of the ponderings she has filed away began to fully reveal the promises made to her by God.

Jesus taken up to Heaven after forty days

The Lord Jesus Christ gathers all of the people that have seen his infallible proof of eternal existence for forty days after He is risen and teaches them the things of the kingdom of God (Acts 1:1-9). He instructs them to not leave Jerusalem until the Holy Ghost comes to them. Jesus speaks His promise of the Holy Ghost, and in the presence of the gathered congregation of His followers, He is taken up and received into a cloud out of their sight. As they are looking to the sky, two men in white apparel appear and proclaim that the “same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10-11). Behold, eternal life through promised salvation is assured, with a promise of Christ’s return in the future.

They return to Jerusalem as Jesus has instructed, and go to an upper room, where the disciples, Mary, the brethren, and the women are in one accord in prayer and supplication. The room is one they are accustomed to meeting within, and might be the same one that is used to celebrate the Passover, but it is not identified as such. The upstairs room shields the occupants from outside interference, making it the perfect place to pray.[5]

Mary hears Peter preach about the coming Holy Ghost, and the full revelation of her son’s life and purpose explained as Peter instructed to “Repent, and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” We can be confident, because we know Mary so well by now, that she too is baptized in the Holy Ghost, because Mary is just that way. When God is in her presence, she clings to Him with great faith and does exactly what He says with a trust unequal to any other; that is why He chooses her as the blessed mother of Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

Mary ponders. She has a love for God, a faith in His Providence, and a conviction that the Son she bore for Him is Her Savior. She is the first disciple of Christ, and the witness to His continuing ministry through the Holy Spirit following His Resurrection and Crucifixion. In final analysis, it is not about her, but God. That is Mary’s pondering focus always. Her commitment to God and trust in Him brings His favor to bear upon her, and as a result, she is known by all faithful Christians as Mary, mother of Christ, and blessed above all women. Thanks be to God for her faith.

Bibliography

George, Timothy. “The Blessed Evangelical Mary: Why We Shouldn’t Ignore Her Any Longer.” Christianity Today 47, no. 12 (2003): 34-39.

Howard, John M. “The Significance of Minor Characters in the Gospel of John.” Bibliotheca sacra 163, no. 649 (2006): 63-78.

Kistemaker, Simon J., and William Hendriksen. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles. Vol. 17 New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001.

[1] Timothy George, “The Blessed Evangelical Mary: Why We Shouldn’t Ignore Her Any Longer,” Christianity Today 47, no. 12 (2003): 37.

[2] John M. Howard, “The Significance of Minor Characters in the Gospel of John,” Bibliotheca sacra 163, no. 649 (2006): 66.

[3] Ibid., 69.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Simon J. Kistemaker, and William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles, New Testament Commentary, vol. 17 (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001), 59.

Lesson 4 – What did Mary really know from the birth of our Lord, exile to Egypt, and the prophets at the Temple?

This lesson we will consider what Mary really knows concerning the events of the birth of our Lord, the family’s exile to Egypt, and the prophets at the Temple. We will examine both Matthew and Luke’s accounts of the early life of Jesus, and merge them together in an effort to capture historical events surrounding the early life of the blessed family.

The Savior is Born

Mary and Joseph are required to return to Bethlehem to pay taxes in the place his family originated, in response to a decree issued by Emperor Augustus. While some scholars debate the historical accuracy of this account,[1] the trip to Bethlehem is recorded in Luke 2:2-5, and thus happened exactly as the inerrant Bible states. The town of Bethlehem was filled with journeyers that had come to pay their taxes as well, and there was no room left in the Inn. Joseph and Mary slept in a stall that was used as an enclosure for animals; some suggest this is inside a cave in a natural outcropping of rock.[2]

It must have seen odd to Mary to be preparing for the impending delivery of the Messiah that has brought so much attention from God, the Holy Ghost, and faithful believers, and yet, not have a grand place for her son’s birth. Mary apparently learns more and more about the Messiah to come as events unfold; certainly, she is probably suspecting by this time that He will not be a prominent, rich leader of political might.

Mary labors and gives birth to the baby Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. She wraps the baby in swaddling clothes and holds him close to her breast in the most holy night that has ever been. O Holy Night, filled with the glory and praise to God from the young mother, as the baby Jesus begins his human existence that will one day glorify His Father in Heaven when He complete His Father’s will.

Mary, Did You Know?

Words by Mark Lowry

Music by Buddy Greene

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy

Would one day walk on water?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy

Would save our sons and daughters?

Did you know that your Baby Boy

Has come to make you new;

This Child that you delivered

Will soon deliver you!

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy

Will give sight to a blind man?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy

Will calm the storm with His hand?

Did you know that your Baby Boy

Has walked where Angels trod?

When you kiss your Little Baby,

You kiss the Face of God!

Oh, Mary, did you know?

Oh, Mary, did you know?

The blind will see, the deaf will hear,

The dead will live again.

The lame will leap, the dumb will speak

The praises of the lamb!

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy

Is Lord of all creation?

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy

Will one day rule the nations?

Did you know that your Baby Boy

Is Heaven’s Perfect Lamb?

This sleeping Child you’re holding

Is the Great I Am!

Birth Announcement

There are some shepherds in the field, watching their flocks in the night, when suddenly the bright glory of the Lord lit up their area, and the appearance of an angel announces the birth of the Lord:

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

Luke 2:13-14 says that after this announcement, a host of angels from heaven praise God: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, Good will toward men.” A star in the East shines brightly to point towards the birth of the King of Jews (Matthew 2:2).

Seeks Jesus

The Shepherds hurry to the town of Bethlehem, locate the Christ child, Mary and Joseph in the manger, and announce to all that could hear the arrival of the Christ the Lord (Luke 2:15-18). They offer praise to God for all they are told about Jesus concerning his identity and his future (Luke 2:20).

Once again, Mary keeps all these things, and ponders them in her heart (Luke 2:20). By this time, it is clear that Mary has advanced knowledge of the Messiah’s coming, and the role she and her son plays in the unfolding drama. Yet, she remains quiet, and does not share her thoughts or knowledge with anyone.

Political Threat

King Herod first learns of the baby Jesus’ birth from three wise men from the east that travel to Jerusalem and inquire of the location of the King of Jews after sighting his star in the East. Their intentions are noble and their plans are to worship Christ when they locate him (Matthew 2:2) But their search disturbs King Herod; he gathers his chief priests and scribes together and demands that they find this reported Christ child. His trusted advisers tell him that it has been written by the prophets that the “Governor” will come out of Bethlehem to rule God’s people in Israel. When Herod spots the star in the East, he commands the wise men to search diligently for the child. Though his intentions are not good, he pretends that he only seeks the young child Jesus in order to worship him, and they believe the king (Matthew 2:3-8).

The wise men soon locate the young child by following the star in the east to Bethlehem, where it was focused upon the location of Jesus. When they see the star they are extremely happy and rejoiced at their discovery. And when they come to the house of Mary and find her and the young child, they fell to their knees and worship him (Matthew 2:9-11). They bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, to offer their thanks to God with these typologically significant treasures that might hold greater meaning later in Christ’s life. That night, God warns them in a dream that Herod is up to no good, and they depart into their country by taking a different route (Matthew 2:12).

God warns Joseph of the danger that Herod was seeking to destroy his young child, and he sends the family to Egypt (Matthew 2:3-15). Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee their homeland, just before Herod slays all of the Bethlehem children under two years old. It is not difficult to know what Mary knew during this terrible time; though certainly relieved for God’s providence during the fulfilling of prophesy spoken by the Prophet Jeremiah about the great mourning of Rachel that prophesizes the killing of the young (Matthew 2:16), her heart must be breaking at the loss of so many children in her hometown.

When Herod finally dies, Joseph is instructed by God to return to the land of Israel. Joseph settles in the city of Nazareth, rather than Bethlehem to avoid ruler Archelaus, another bad king. This actually fulfills another prophesy by the prophets of old that state the Messiah will be called a Nazarene (Matthew 2:19-22).

Temple Blessings and Prophesy after Christ’s birth

Luke 2:25-38 speaks of two very special prophets of God that wait by the Temple to see the young Messiah. Simeon was a devout and just Jew waiting for the Messiah when the Holy Ghost reveals to him that he will see the Messiah before he dies. When Joseph and Mary brought the child Jesus to the Temple, he recognized the Lord immediately, blessed God and said:

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou has prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

It is the first time recorded in Scripture that Mary hears about the participation of Gentiles in the future ministry of Christ. How could it be that both the Gentiles and the people of Israel will both be saved by Jesus, when the idea of Messiah most usually represents the salvation of Israel alone? It is another bit of information revealed to Joseph and Mary, and caused them to marvel at the prophecy. Then Simeon spoke some prophesy that must have shook Mary greatly:

“Behold this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.)” (Luke 2:34-35)

Now Mary first receives the first warnings to prepare the tumultuous times that will bring soul-numbing sorrow as the crucifixion and Resurrection is accounted; the traditional view advanced by John Damascne is that the sorrow in this prophesy speaks on Mary’s soul destiny filled with maternal grief as she stands at the foot of the crucified Son of God (John 19:25-27).[3] It is quite possible that Mary did not equate that prophecy with the mysteries of the death of her son; but, one can imagine that there was a pause and a coldness that surely permeated that one moment. Up to that point, Mary had heard glorious details of Christ bringing salvation to God’s people. Now Simeon offers visions of future trials and tribulations and confusing mysteries of Christ that will break Mary’s heart for the good of many.

That old woman Anna, a widow for 84 years from a marriage that lasted over 107 years, survives long enough to see the young Christ speaks of some of the quiet miracles and mysteries of God during this important time. That Anna survives long enough to see the Messiah wither her own eyes, speaks greatly of her faith. She has served God with fastings and prayers day and night, and is allowed to live to see the Savior of Israel. When she sees Christ in the Temple, she gave thanks to the Lord, and tells all to look for the redemption of Israel because the Messiah has come (Luke 2:36-38).

Mary and the child Jesus

Child Jesus grows strong in spirit and he is filled with wisdom; it is apparent that God’s grace is upon him (Luke 2:40) There is one more childhood event recorded in Luke that gives us insight into the thoughts of Mary. The family travels to Jerusalem every year for the feast of the Passover. When their celebration is over, they had back to Nazareth, but the child Jesus tarries behind. Joseph and Mary were not aware that he was still in Jerusalem, and thought he was with their relatives a day’s journey ahead of them. When they were unable to locate him, they hurried back to Jerusalem where they found him in the Temple.

Child Jesus was sitting in the midst of the doctors, listening to them and asking questions. When his parents rebuke him for his lagging behind, he explains, “How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49) This confuses Mary and Joseph which makes no sense when evaluated with the knowledge Mary has by this time concerning the things of Christ. Perhaps it is the timing that seems off to her with the idea that Christ’s ministry for God would not begin at such a young age. Joseph and Mary’s growing apprehension with their son’s safety in the three-day separation is a sharp contrast to the attitude of Jesus who is preoccupied by the things of His Father.[4] It seems likely that the parents of Jesus feel a larger obligation toward dutiful parenting to raise the Son of God in the best way they can, since God places Jesus in their human care. Certainly, they had their hands full in raising the Son of God, who increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). All of these things, of course, are kept in Mary’s heart and she ponders them quietly as the Son of God grew to assume his ministry (Luke 2:51) in God’s time.

Conclusion

Mary, Joseph and Jesus are delivered first in the setting of natural birth. Mary is the first disciple of Jesus Christ, because she accepts him as the Son of God before He was placed within her womb. Joseph, in his support, shows strength of faith in God in a situation that would bring most men doubt of faith. The family is delivered from evil intentions through an escape route that leads to the center of the carnal world. It is not in the Temple of the Jews nor in the Court of Romans that God sends the family for protection. Rather, they go to a place of unfamiliar life, trusting that God will look after them, and summon them in His time when it is safe. When they return to safety once again in Palestine, they are amazed to hear the blessings and prophecy from Simeon and Anna. Though their time with the busy crowded, worldly affairs in Egypt protect them, their place is in the land of Palestine, and where the Son of God can fulfill prophesy and do the things of His Father. Child Jesus grows strong, wise and favored by His Father and men, as His mother ponders His unique life from the beginning to the foretold future, with full acceptance of God’s unfolding plans.

Bibliography

Culpepper, Gary. “‘A Sword Will Pierce through Your Own Soul Also’: The Sanctification, Conversion, and Exemplary Witness of the Blessed Mary.” Pro Ecclesia 19, no. 1 (2010): 28-45.

Elwell, Walter A., Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1988.

Lange, J.P., Dods, Marcus. The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ: A Complete Critical Examination of the Origin, Contents, and Connection of the Gospels. Vol. 1. 4 vols. Edinburgh, London; Dublin: T&T Clark, 1872.

Nolland, John. Word Biblical Commentary : Luke 1:1-9:20 Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002.

[1] Lange, 295-300.

[2] Elwell, 1391-1392. The Church of Nativity in Jerusalem is erected over a cave manger that is said to be the birthplace of Christ.

[3] Gary Culpepper, “‘A Sword Will Pierce through Your Own Soul Also’: The Sanctification, Conversion, and Exemplary Witness of the Blessed Mary,” Pro Ecclesia 19, no. 1 (2010): 31.

[4] Nolland, 130.

Lesson 3 – What did Mary know through Holy Ghost exaltations?

This lesson we will examine the deep Scripture revelations captured in the Holy Ghost exaltations through Elisabeth, Mary, and Zacharias during the time of Elisabeth’s and Mary’s pregnancies. These vivid accounts of intense praise and revelation form a solid foundation in the belief of people that hears these words because it is spoken through them by God’s Holy Spirit. It is God’s truth fully expressed by three people that are fully enveloped in the supernatural events that have come into their lives through the power of God.

Gabriel’s Blessings

Mary hears the blessings given to her by God first from Angel Gabriel in his initial greeting: “Hail, thou art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” (Luke 1:28) This greeting contains three specific ideas that are confusing to Mary, and she is “troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.” (Luke 1:29). Think for a moment of what it would mean to you to be told that you are a favorite of God’s, so much so, that He is with you as you live your daily life; remember, the Holy Spirit has not yet been sent to dwell in replacement for the Lord’s ascension.

In Mary’s world, the Jews had knowledge that the powerful and mighty LORD God’s presence came to the first Temple through the Ark of the Covenant, in the presence of one purified priest and detailed sacrificial offerings being placed upon the altar. They were fully aware that the Holy of Holies within the Second Temple was without the presence of God, because the Ark of the Covenant that contained His presence was lost in the destruction of the First Temple.

When Mary hears that she is favored by God, and He is with her, it must have shaken her understanding to great depths of confusion. The history of the Jews, and the construction, destruction, and reconstruction of the Temple of God must have rushed through her mind, as she tries to make sense of how God can be with her, and how He can think she is worthy of His attention. She is not a priest, as her cousin’s husband, and completely unqualified to offer gifts to God in the Temple system. While the supernatural presence of Angel Gabriel most certainly confirms to her that this is an extraordinary event, the greeting he speaks troubles her historical knowledge of God. And when Gabriel tells Mary that she is “blessed” (Genesis 1:28) among women, and she does not laugh at the apparent ridiculousness of a young maiden gaining the powerful LORD God’s attention, it is a credit to her pondering nature that doesn’t express emotion to others until she thinks upon things. That pondering nature must be one of the endearing and unique traits that God notices in Mary; it certainly allows us to know her more intimately through this record of this special nature as we witness it throughout the accounts of her life in Scripture.

Cousin Elizabeth’s Blessings

Angel Gabriel announces that the Holy Ghost will come upon her and JESUS will be conceived, and she humbly accepts her unique role in history by declaring to be the “handmaid of the Lord” as she offers her body to be used as a vessel by Him. When she goes to her Cousin Elisabeth’s house following the conception of Jesus in her womb, she is greeted by Elisabeth, who at first hearing Mary’s voice, felt her babe leap, and the Holy Ghost fill her. With a loud voice Elisabeth shouts, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” The word of her cousin duplicate the words of Gabriel in her status among women and the blessing to Jesus in her womb a new blessing that can only be bestowed after the babe is placed there. How loud her cousin’s voice must have seemed to both Mary and the baby John that leaped in Elisabeth’s womb, as she recognized the blessed state that Mary was given by God.[1]

Then Elisabeth adds another blessing that confirms to Mary that her vision and conversation with Angel Gabriel is the truth of God: “And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.” That is all it took; Mary felt the surge of the Holy Ghost move from Elisabeth to her, and she sings the most magnificent, beautiful praise song that emanates from deep within her, moved by her special and unique connection to God. God is with her, the Lord is in her belly, and the Holy Ghost is surging her emotions past the place of pondering, to the uncontrollable rejoicing of recognizing and experiencing the presence of God.

The Magnificat Song of Mary

“My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47). This Song (Canticle) of Mary is often called the Magnificat because of the word (my soul) “magnify” at the beginning of the song; the word Magnificat is the Latin version of the song’s text. This song parallels Psalms 112 and 117 with clear Messianic reflections and begins the revelations of Holy Ghost expression of the nature of the Messiah that will be fully shared at the birth of John, through the testimony of the Holy Ghost through Zacharias, as Christ’s path is prepared.[2] Some mistakenly claim that Mary’s song of praise is a derivative of Hannah’ recorded in 1 Samuel 1.[3] However, an examination of the revelations contained within Mary’s song shows it to be original, purposeful, and moving, with the words formed perfectly by the Holy Ghost.

Mary immediately exclaims that her soul feels the connection with the Lord, and it is increased with His presence. Her spirit soars in uncontrollable rejoicing in “God my Saviour.” This significant declaration shows that Mary is beginning to understand the purpose of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, son of Mary growing inside her womb. It is her Saviour, and the Saviour to all those that will call Him their Lord.

Mary makes effort to reconcile her status as a handmaiden with the surety of knowledge that all generations will call her blessed (Luke 1:47). It is easily discerned that her confidence in that blessing by all generations is sure, though, she can hardly balance that faith with the knowledge of who she is in the important works of God (Luke 1:48). She states her understanding of the great things God has done with His Power, and proclaims His holiness with passion (Luke 1:49).

Mary speaks in her passionate song of praise of God’s mercy towards those that fear Him, throughout the generations past and to come (Luke 1:50). She knows God’s omnipotent powerful arm is used to scatter the proud and have them follow after their imaginations that fester deep inside them because of their haughty ways (Luke 1:51). She understands that God unseats the powerful leaders, and raises up those of poor spirit; her personal experience confirms this concept fully (Luke 1:52).

One day in the future, her son will teach the things of God to those who are able to hear His Words:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”

“Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” (Matthew 5:3-12)

The full development of blessings that Christ teaches begins with the simple blessings expressed by Mary while He is still in her womb. As the Holy Ghost surges through his mother, you can’t help but wonder if God is teaching His Son the beginning principles of his ministry thirty years later. Mary sings of the food of God satisfying the hungry, while the worldly rich starve. She remembers Israel, and the mercy of God given to His Chosen People when they did not deserve even His notice (Luke 1:54). She concludes with remembrance of Father Abraham and the connection she and her son and all the people who come to God through Him (Luke 1:55). It is the beginning of new blessings, the beginning of new connections, and the beginning of a new ministry growing within her womb, stirs with the Spirit of God and surges with the words of praise for the Almighty.

Mary has come quite far in her understanding of God’s movement from the time of Gabriel’s salutation causing her to be troubled, to this time, when she is overflowing with the advanced knowledge given to her by God. Mary knows more and more of her son’s destiny, because she stands in the path of the delivery of new teachings to her babe in the womb and when they come, she cannot help but sing praises to God.

Zacharias SPEAKS!

Zacharias is mute until the moment his son was circumcised, and the name John was given to his miraculous baby that was born to make the path straight for the Lord. And then God loosens his tongue, the Holy Ghost surges through Him, and the words he sings are so moving, so powerful, that they spread throughout Judea. The Christ child is not yet born, when John’s ministry is revealed to all with an ear to hear. It is the full revelation of the coming works of John preparing for the coming works of Christ.

The song of Zacharias stirs these revelations of God into a depth of teaching that is unequaled in powerful poetic expression; it cannot be doubted that the origin of these words come from the Holy Ghost moving in Zacharias, guiding his speech, and then surging through the receivers of these blessed teachings of God. It most certainly is a Pentecostal-like moment of amazing revelation that whooshes through the crowd of onlookers long before the Church in Acts witnesses the flame and wind of the Holy Spirit.

Zacharias announces the redemption and salvation of the people is at hand; the Messiah prophesized by holy prophets of old is entering their world (Luke 1:67). He announces that it is his son John that will be called the prophet of the Highest, and go in front of the Lord to prepare his ways (Luke 1:76). And he sings typological wonders of hidden mysteries of the coming of the Lord with a spiritual depth that might go unseen initially, but be confirmed as the presence of Christ becomes more known. It is these spiritual depths that reveal the details of Christ’s ministry of salvation and remission of sins (Luke 1:77), and gives Mary, the onlookers, and those hearing of Zacharias’ song later a solid foundation of the basic roles and goals of God that the Messiah will reflect. It adds to the declaration of blessing earlier sung by Mary, as his words reveal the salvation of the Lord has arrived in their lifetime, as promised by the fathers of old that originates from the holy covenant of God shared with Abraham.

Recall the Messianic expectations reflected in the titles of Jesus Christ that we studied in the first lesson. At the conclusion of the blessings and announcements of the coming Lord through Elisabeth, Mary, and Zacharias, knowledge of the roles and goals of the Messiah is narrowed down considerably. The Holy Ghost begins to prepare a path for Christ through baby John, before John can even speak. It is at John’s baptism that the knowledge of the nature of the Messiah is imparted to God’s people and begins to pave the path that adult John will one day lay straight for the Lord.

Bonus Lesson: Evangelical and Catholic beliefs contrasted

We will take a step away from our biblical study of the character of Mary to examine the ideas concerning Mary that Evangelicals and Catholics agree upon, with a brief discussion also on the disagreements. This lesson will equip you with good solid answers to the difficult questions about Mary as they come to you to explain your Protestant belief.

Agreement

1. Historicity of virginal conception of Jesus – Orthodox Christians of all times has understood that the virginity of Mary is connected with the belief that Jesus is both the Son of God and the son of Mary.[4] Without belief in her virginity, the father of Christ can be challenged; thankfully, it is not an often contested belief, because of the apostolic witness through Scripture. Some Jews and a few extremely liberal Protestants sometimes try to make a case for a “young maiden” rather than “virgin” interpretation. But, mainstream Protestants and devout Catholics agree on the virginity of Mary before the birth of Christ.

2. Mary is blessed mother of Jesus Christ – The Catholic concept of “Mother of God” is not shared by Protestants. [5] It is a critical matter of faith, especially to counter the heresy of Nestorius and others who attempt to divide human and divine natures of Christ, to firmly state the connection of human Mary faithfully containing the Son of God within her womb for a time.[6] However, Protestants believe that Mary is to be known as the mother that gives human nature to Jesus, the LORD God the father that reflects the Divine nature in His only begotten Son, and the Holy Ghost as the person effecting conception. While Christ’s human and divine nature cannot be separated, and the title given to Mary as Mother of God appropriate because of the nature of Christ, care must be taken in these times to succinctly state the relationship.[7] Catholics falsely claim that Mary IS the mother of GOD with emphasis on Mary, while Protestants declare Mary the mother of Jesus with emphasis on Christ; Catholics seem to take this belief one step too far. Regardless, both Catholics and Protestants agree that Mary is blessed by God to be chosen as His faithful handmaiden.

3. There is a place for a biblical honor of Mary – The handmaid of the Lord is blessed by God to be chosen as mother to Christ, and must be honored for the unique position of faith that gives birth to our Savior. Honor towards her, in the sense of gratefulness toward her faithful accomplishment of her motherhood, should result in blessings attached to Mary, a position often neglected but obligated by God that all Christians should hold. However, if that honor extends to a devotion to Mary that encourages a cult-like status, or replaces some of the worship of the Lord with worship toward her, then it is a Catholic practice gone awry, and not shared by Protestants.

Disagreement

1. Perpetual Virginity – It is biblically sound to declare Mary a virgin before the conception and birth of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-38). However, many Catholics maintain that Mary remains perpetually a virgin, and that this belief is neither required nor forbidden by Scripture alone.[8] The existence of the four brothers of Christ, James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas (Matthew 13:55-56), and sisters originating from the union of Mary and Joseph, and in natural speech, the half-brothers and half-sisters of Jesus, prohibits the declaration that Mary is a virgin forever.

2. Immaculate Conception – This term often confuses Protestants; they think it is speaking of the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ to his mother Mary. However, immaculate conception speaks of the doctrine that many Catholics hold that Mary is preserved from original sin from the moment she was conceived in her mother’s womb by natural copulation between her parents. This idea is based upon Mary being “full of grace” (Luke 1:28), a indication, they think, to her favored status by God initiated in her conception.

This is an unbiblical notion and an unnecessary teaching about Mary. Through our own study, we have seen that God overshadows Mary with the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:35), which sanctifies and prepares her to receive the Lord’s presence. God did not make Mary exempt from original sin at her conception; His Holy Ghost is quite capable of cleansing the insides of whomever He chooses to occupy. With the supernatural overshadow of the LORD God upon Mary, there would have been an immediate cleansing of her sins, and she would have been in the most holy state to receive the Lord’s presence in her womb.

3. Bodily Assumption – The false belief in the Immaculate Conception leads to the unproven belief that Mary was assumed in Heaven and did not die, in a manner that resembles Enoch and Elijah.[9] This is based upon Romans 6:23, which states “the wages of sin is death;” thus, the reasoning becomes that since Mary was without sin, she had no reason to die. But, since it is only Christ alone who physically rises again after death, an explanation had to be formed for Mary’s entrance into Heaven. Tradition of Bodily Assumption is born, and propagated by Pope Pius XII through this unnecessary dogma.

4. Invocation of Mary as an intercessory role in salvation and answered prayers – Catholics believe that the Lord has given Mary special powers of invocation, intercession, or mediation, that plays an important redemptive role as a mediator between a sinner and her son.[10] This is unbiblical belief that replaces the doctrine of the salvation through Jesus Christ with an alternate focus upon His mother with adoration and veneration.

The Bible does not say whether departed believers in the Lord can hear or answer words prayed to them. Further, Protestants believe that the cross finishes the work of Christ, and that believers can boldly approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). Protestants do not pray to Mary or saints, in their worship or personal devotions to avoid assuming an idolatrous posture that is often seen in Catholic worship.[11]

Conclusion

The revelation of Mary through God’s Word magnifies her special nature that pleases God so much, that He chooses her to be the mother of the Son of God. There is no need to make Mary a co-god with the false teachings of perpetual virginity, immaculate conception, bodily assumption, invocation of Mary, adoration and veneration, or tasking her with an intercessory role. God did not choose a goddess to bear the Son of God. He chose a young virgin girl who ponders when facing spiritual things she does not fully understand, and trusts that whether she understands or not, God is good and faithful, and she has nothing to fear; the Son of God comes to redeem her and us from original sin. We should think of her with honor and blessings for her faithful carrying of our Lord in our womb that brings salvation to sinners and grants them eternal life through belief in the Son of God.

Bibliography

“Do Whatever He Tells You: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian Faith and Life: A Statement of Evengelicals and Catholics Together.” First Things, no. 197 (2009): 49-59.

Hunter, Sylvester Joseph. Outlines of Dogmatic Theology. New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1896.

Lange, J.P., Dods, Marcus. The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ: A Complete Critical Examination of the Origin, Contents, and Connection of the Gospels. Vol. 1. 4 vols. Edinburgh, London; Dublin: T&T Clark, 1872.

Nolland, John. Word Biblical Commentary : Luke 1:1-9:20 Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002.

[1] Nolland, 75.

[2] Sylvester Joseph Hunter, Outlines of Dogmatic Theology (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1896), 579.

[3] Lange, 292.

[4] “Do Whatever He Tells You: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Christian Faith and Life: A Statement of Evengelicals and Catholics Together,” First Things, no. 197 (2009): 50.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 56.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 57.

[11] Ibid.

Lesson 2 – What did Mary know through her virginity and the conception of our Lord?

This lesson we will discuss Mary’s life, and contemplate what she really knows concerning the events surrounding her young life, with a detailed look at her virginity, conception, and pregnancy. It is important to understand that there are some Jews who allege that Mary is not a virgin when Christ is conceived, but rather, an adulteress.[1] This charge reaches to these modern times as Bible scholars argue the meaning of the word virgin, debate Greek translation of the word, compare it to Hebrew interpretations of the word that mean young maiden, and use the worldview of the person to claim or disclaim Mary’s virginity. Those who hold faith in their priori worldview that God acts in history recognize the important historical narratives that both Matthew and Luke present; those without faith in God’s acts in history are not always convinced.[2] It is important for Christians to examine in detail the proofs offered by the Word of God, as we attempt to determine what Mary must have known during this important time in her life.

Proof of Mary’s Virginity

When Gabriel is sent from God to visit Mary in Nazareth, his message declares Mary’s virginity three specific times in Luke 1:26-38. It is mentioned twice in verse 27, first declaring that the woman espoused to Joseph from the House of David to be a virgin, and then giving the virgin’s name as Mary. Then in Luke 1:34, Mary asks the angel how she can conceive in her womb when she has never known a man in that way. The declaration of Mary’s virginity in these two verses allows us to recognize the purity of her body reserved for her soon-to-be husband Joseph, the recognition by God of her purity, and Mary’s knowledge of the need for sexual relations to reproduce children.

Matthew 1:18-25 also declares the historical truth that Mary is a virgin prior to conception of the Christ child. Verse 22-23 shows the angel of the Lord appears in a dream to Joseph that announces Mary will conceive through the Holy Ghost a child to be called JESUS, in fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14 that announces Emmanuel’s birth from a virgin. Then in verse 25, we learn that Joseph does not have sexual relations with Mary until after she brings forth her firstborn son.

Mary is betrothed to Joseph at the time of her conception. A betrothed engagement in 1st century Judaism is a formal pre-nuptial contract binding the man and young woman, around twelve or thirteen years of age, with promise to marry in a second and final public ceremony later on.[3] There are witnesses present for the betrothal ceremony that is usually arranged between the parents; though it is not yet considered a marriage, the girl can be charged with adultery and face stoning should she betray her contract with her betrothed.[4] The relationship requires a formal divorce should a break-up occur and if one party dies before the official marriage then the other partner is known as a “widow” or “widower.”[5] Legally, the betrothed girl stays at her parent’s house, and does not have sexual relations; it is only after the second official ceremony of marriage that the full expression of sexual intercourse is allowed.[6]

The Greek word used in Luke’s text that is translated as “virgin” is parthenos. This word represents the period between childhood and adulthood, which is a young girl’s ripe time when she is able to bear children, but has not yet, attained the status of gyne of “womanhood” in which sexual intercourse is implied.[7] But, parthenos does not fully deny sexual intercourse has taken place; it is the word parthenia that indicates the virgin status of a pure young woman.[8] Parthenos can, but does not fully reveal the status of the young girl’s virginity. That leaves just enough gaps for alternate interpretations to Mary’s virginity. When all other supporting Scripture in both OT and NT are examined together, there is no doubt to the historical account of Mary’s virginity. But, when the same sources are fully neglected, a small bit of argument can be made, and is usually made by scholars seeking attention for their Greek exegesis skills without a thorough inclusion of all Scripture in their evaluation.

There is no account in early pagan literature or pre-Christian Judaism that reports virginal conception.[9] In fact, the only Jewish tradition of virgin birth can be only referenced to Isaiah 7:14, which is prophesy of the Lord being born one day in human form.[10] In that verse, Jewish scholars try to argue that the word for “virgin” is represented by the Hebrew word “alma” which can mean young woman and does not fully claim virgin status for the young lady; but, they acknowledge the presumption of virginity is also contained within the expression of the word.

When all evidences of the historical accounts in Matthew, Luke, and Isaiah are considered together, and the Greek and Hebrew words examined closely, there is no doubt to the virginity of Mary before the conception of Christ. Joseph and Mary remained without sex until after the birth of Christ. It was the Holy Spirit, and only the Holy Spirit, that came upon Mary and made her with child. We will examine that process next.

Conception

The Angel Gabriel comes to Mary in the sixth month and tells here that she is highly favored by God, and blessed among women. After hearing the message, she receives the vision of Gabriel’s presence and becomes troubled. This unusual greeting puzzles Mary, and she ponders what sort of message is being given to her by an angel that has supernaturally appeared in her sight. The Angel Gabriel comforts her fear, restates that God favors her, and then delivers the core message that he was tasked to deliver:

And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. (Luke 1:31-33)

The young virgin girl quietly ponders this supernatural message that seems impossible to understand, and in direct conflict of her peaceful, predictable life as a Jewish maiden betrothed to the carpenter Joseph. “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” she asks (Luke 1:34-35); Gabriel carefully explains the process of the Holy Conception to the young girl in a very detailed way that allows us to understand the conception of the Son of God inside the womb of human flesh.

The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)

The Holy Ghost, the Spirit emanating from God, will come upon the virgin girl, and His power will overshadow her. The word “overshadow” is translated from the Greek word episkiazo and its usual meanings are to shade, to cover, or to conceal.[11] Overshadowing with the power of God is seen first seen in Exodus 19:9 when God comes upon the mountain and instructs Moses to bring the people to Him; this cloud concealing God’s full power from the eyes humans develops further in the divine manifestation that comes upon the tabernacle raised by Moses (Exodus 40:34). This shadowing of God rests upon the tent of the Covenant, preventing mere human beings from entering into His Presence. It is a special protection placed by God to prevent casual entrance into His Holy Presence that would destroy unprepared human flesh with contact of His power and glory. This overshadowing always possesses the place His power comes upon.[12]

Mary is overshadowed by the power of God at a time and place unrecorded in the Bible,[13] when He comes upon her to place into her womb the presence of His Son into human flesh formed by Him alone. God’s full power is hidden from the being of Mary by a shadow, to protect her human life from possible destruction from an inadvertent glance. This impregnation process is much different than normal conception, where sexual intercourse fertilizes a mother’s egg with the father’s sperm as the egg tumbles down the fallopian tube and eventually implants in the womb and develops into a baby. Mary’s holy child, the Son of God, is conceived in her womb by the power of God. There is no egg, no sperm, no intercourse; the babe Christ is formed in Mary’s womb by the power of God.

Deep thinkers can be confident that God placement of His Son in the womb of Mary has philosophical, metaphorical, and typological implications that reach far past the humble understanding of the young maiden. The Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle, and the Holy of Holies in the Temple of God, all hold a part of God’s essence that is overshadowed by Him. God’s presence with humanity (divine immanence) inside the constructed places made for Him to dwell within, still prevent human beings from approaching, keeping Him separated in transcendence.[14] Mary’s womb duplicates this process of divine immanence as her womb holds the presence of the Son of God; yet, God no longer separates Himself from His Creation. Rather, He joins His Son to the human race, no longer separated by the power that would destroy humans in His presence.

Mary accepts God’s will by verbally acknowledging her role: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” Her acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ into her womb makes her the first disciple of His; while this is probably not known to her immediately, His later ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection redeems Christ’s human mother with all other believers in the Son of God. It is a promise that His mother claims first by trusting God’s will and assenting to His way (Luke 1:38).

But that is just one half of the drama of the supernatural conception of the Lord Jesus Christ through a human mother. There is also her betrothed husband that must understand the supernatural process to assume the natural life role of the human father to the Christ child. The angel of the Lord informs Joseph of Mary’s pregnancy in Matthew 1:18-25 a little later than probably Mary would have liked. First he learns of Mary’s pregnancy and then is forced to spiritually and morally contemplate the option of private divorce to avoid public stoning (Matthew 1:18-19). Finally, in what must have been a distressful sleep, he dreams a dream that comforts him and makes him understand the supernatural adventure of parenthood that God has placed into his hands and Mary’s womb:

Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which is being interpreted is God with us.

When Joseph wakes up, he does just exactly what the angel of the Lord has instructs him to do; he makes Mary his wife. While we will learn later of the conflicts of opinions of what the nature of this marriage, with one false idea expressing the perpetual virginity of Mary that is recorded by Jerome and celebrated by Roman Catholics,[15] one can be assured through the implication of Scripture that it is a normal marriage with normal sexual relationship following the birth of Jesus, the Christ (Matthew 1:25).

Mary’s Kin

Mary first learns of her Cousin Elisabeth’s pregnancy from Angel Gabriel. Gabriel tells her of the impending birth of John that was six months in the womb of Elisabeth in her old age (Luke 1:36) to support God’s ability through His power to give life even through a barren old lady past the age of childbearing, “for with God nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:37) Interesting parallels are shared between Mary and Elisabeth in that both women are miraculously pregnant, each aware of the other’s condition through supernatural revelation (Luke 1:36, 41-45), and each with great blessings flowing from their heart toward their Lord (Luke 1:42-45) and God (Luke 1:46-55).[16]

John leaps in Elisabeth’s womb as Mary and newly-formed Jesus within her womb come together. It is the Holy Ghost that guides through their praises to perfect expressions of Holy joy; He enters Elisabeth as the babe in her womb leaps when she hears the salutation of Mary. In a loud voice, she declares:

“Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” (Luke 1:42-22)

The supernatural movements of God connect the two women and the two babes even closer than their relationship had been in the past; their first meeting after God’s overshadowing of Mary bring their spirits to the highest peaks of spiritual ecstasy. The fruit of Elisabeth’s body understands deeper than what her mind might comprehend, forming significant words with the Holy Ghost’s help to express their joy of standing together in the presence of the miraculous conception of their Lord.[17] Mary feels the babe Jesus growing inside her, and is comforted by the witness of God through her kindred as they declare the miraculous conception with uncontrollable praise. For the next three months, Mary stays with Elisabeth as they support each other in the most miraculous days of their lives and ponder together the coming of the Lord.

Cousin Elisabeth

Previously we learn Mary meets Cousin Elisabeth when she is six months pregnant with John the future Baptizer who prepares the way for his second-cousin, the Lord Jesus Christ; but, we need to consider the setting a bit deeper to learn fully the things that Mary knows. Baby John’s miraculous conception occurs when his parents are very old and past the time of childbearing. This shocking circumstance is talked about throughout their neighborhood, amongst both friends and family (Luke 1:58-59).

It must have seen quite strange observing an old woman pregnant with her first child. To make things even more interesting for the gossip mill, the honored Priest Zacharias has been made mute during this time. And when the child is born, he is named “John” according to the angel’s instructions, with total disregard for traditional name after his father at his baptism (Luke 1:59-63).

All of the miraculous details of John’s conception, the visit by the angel and Zacharias’ speech relayed by the angel of the Lord were told to the inquisitive onlookers; of course, Mary quietly receives this information during her three month visit before the birth of the baby. The stirring interest of townsfolk and kin with their excitement in the birth of the baby John must have been quite an exciting time for her, as she ponders the future for her own child and tries to put the pieces of all the supernatural events into an order that her young mind can understand.

In our next lesson, we will exam the exaltations of Elisabeth, Mary, and Zacharias that are stirred by the Holy Spirit in this period of John’s conception and birth. It is in these holy songs and prayers that we learn more about the knowledge Mary has prior to the birth of her son.

Bonus Lesson: The Development of Marian Theology in History

Seldom is a Protestant Bible study done without complicating Mary’s story with traditional beliefs reflecting differences in various historical periods and doctrine. Scripture is rich in material that allows us to know much more about Mary than we first realize with casual reading and is able to provide a full character Bible study without addressing the peripheral issues. However, this Bible study is written for more mature Christian students that might run into these differences as their Bible study progresses. The more maturity Christians gain, the more opportunities and challenges come to defend evangelical Protestant faith which makes it important to examine these things.

At the end of a Lessons 2 and 3, these different ideas and perspectives are explained to equip Protestants to understand the conflicts of tradition. They are somewhat outside the regular lesson, to provide the information, but stand away from our Scripture study of Mary’s life.

Our first Bonus lesson briefly examines Mary through different historical periods of Christianity:

Gnostics – Some interest is paid Mary, with a gnostic document entitled Pistis Sophia, questioning the actual occurrence of the human birth of Jesus.[18] Though Mary’s virginity is maintained before childbirth in Apocryphal literature in that time, they also contain some accounts of Mary’s own birth described in miraculous terms.[19]

Early Church Fathers – The writings of the early church fathers reemphasizes biblical accounts of Mary as the mother of Jesus.[20] They fight against the gnostic denial of Jesus’ human birth, and the extremes expressed in Apocryphal literature. They are not interested in Mary as the object of their faith; rather, they approach her as a sign of proof that God has intervened in human history and taken the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth through her womb.[21]

Early Church reflection often associate the Virgin Mary with the new Eve; while the first Eve brings forth disobedience and death by obeying the serpent, the Virgin Mary takes on faith and joy by giving permission to God through Gabriel, “Be it unto me according to thy word.”[22] (Luke 1:38) This idea of Mary rescuing the fallen human race is faulty in the excess blame given to Eve and the undue credit given to Mary for human salvation.[23]

The early church does not question Mary’s virginity, but many early writers declare her sinless.[24] Hippolytus says Mary is the “incorruptible wood” from which the body of Jesus was formed.[25] Augustine declares, “Concerning the Virgin, I wish to raise no question when it touches the subject of sin, out of honor to the Lord, for from Him we know what abundance of grace to overcome sin in every way was conferred upon her who undoubtedly had no sin.”[26]

Council of Ephesus – The turning point in Marian doctrinal and traditional development comes at The Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431.[27] Her divine maternity is defined by the Council as Theotokos, God-bearer.[28] Before the Council, Christian leaders fear that the uniqueness of Christ will be compromised if Mary is elevated.[29] And, there are many different worshippers of false goddesses prior to the Council, and the leaders do not want Mary to fall into that group by mistaken association.[30]

When Mary is declared Theotokos, it is for the purpose of reflecting the human nature of Christ initially.[31] However, it soon migrates to the “perfect disciple” concept that is a model for the Church, and her chasteness, purity, and poverty become an ascetic ideal in orthodoxy.[32] She becomes an ideal woman, representing a pure Church, and separate from a normal human existance.

Medieval Period – After Ephesus, a complex and excessive Marian dogma develops during the medieval period.[33] For the first 500 years, the doctrines expressing Mary’s virginity and divine maternity are added upon. Then 500 years prior to the Reformation, Mary is officially embraced as “Co-redemptrix, Queen of heaven, and Queen of Mercies.”[34] Anselm prays:

Therefore, O Lady, Gate of life, Door of salvation, Way of reconciliation, Entrance to restoration, I beseech thee by thy saving fruitful-ness, see that the pardon of my sins and the grace to live well are granted to me, and that thy servant is guarded even to the end under thy protection God, therefore, is the father of created things, and Mary is the Mother of re-created things— The Mother of God is our Mother.[35]

Thomas a Kempis refers to Mary as “the expiator of all the sins I have committed” and “my only hope.” Soon most in the church believe that Mary’s intercession and mediation are the basis for the grace of God bestowed upon them and providing answers to their prayers.

Reformation – Martin Luther is a great admirer of the “mother of God’ and Huldrych Zwingli insists upon devotion being shown her. He thinks she is “an instrument of salvation-history, and a model of Christian life, a sign and a witness, who points to the miracle and mystery of Christ.”[36] John Calvin remains guarded in discussing Mary; though he writes a great deal about her, he is uncomfortable with the title Theotokos, and fears that Mary will be praised more than Christ.[37]

Modern Period – Mary’s identification as the perfect Christian, with divine maternity, worthy character, and a role in mediation of sins is the view of most Catholics today. The Doctrine of Mary’s Assumption, which we will cover a bit more in the next lesson, is added in the Modern Period belief in Mary by Pope Pius XII officially.

Mary continues to be a symbol for the Roman Catholic Church while many conservative and evangelical Christians stand a bit aloof from her in response to faulty Catholic doctrine. In recent years, a feminist movement has taken hold that rejects both traditional and Scripture Mary as a model for women that they charge absurdly displays femininity and subordination. [38] Some feminists try to rewrite Scripture by creating a Mary that is historically remembered as a strong woman that stands alone, and associate her with the false goddess “Sophia” to achieve their end goals.

Thanks be to God that He has placed Scripture in our hands, and we don’t have the need to rely upon man’s tradition to learn about the blessed mother of Christ! It’s time to return to our Scripture lessons and recapture Mary’s human experience in a supernatural event that rocks her world, and provides her and all other believers salvation through the belief in the only Son of God.

Conclusion

Mary ponders. She receives information from Gabriel that she has never heard before. She takes it all in, with her Cousin Elisabeth’s support in a very supernatural time in her life. But, Mary is not supernatural, and she is neither a pretend hyper-spiritual nor a perverse hyper-sexual; she is not superhuman, she is not sinless, and she is not the redeemer of sin. She is a young virgin girl that finds favor with God, and is chosen by Him to conceive His Son through the process of miraculous conception. To suggest that Mary is more than what she is corrupts faith and the Word of God, giving false power to people rather than expressing the full omnipotence of the LORD God that expresses his will perfectly.

Bibliography

Augustine, Saint, Bishop of Hippo. A Treatise on Nature and Grace. Translated by Peter Holmes. Vol. V A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887.

Anselem. A Prayer to Saint Mary A Scholastic Miscellany. New York: Macmillan, 1970.

Boss, Sarah Jane. “Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary.” Theology Today 62, no. 1 (2005): 104-110.

Hagner, Donald A. Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 1-13 Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002.

Hollenweger, Walter. Zwingli’s Devotion to Mary Mary in Protestant Theology: One in Christ, 1980.

Holness, Lyn. “Mary’s Womb as the ‘Space within Our Space for the Gestating Son of God’.” Religion & Theology 16, no. 1-2 (2009): 19-34.

Hunter, Jim Ernest. “Blessed Art Thou among Women : Mary in the History of Christian Thought.” Review & Expositor 83, no. 1 (1986): 35-49.

Lange, J.P., Dods, Marcus. The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ: A Complete Critical Examination of the Origin, Contents, and Connection of the Gospels. Vol. 1. 4 vols. Edinburgh, London; Dublin: T&T Clark, 1872.

Nolland, John. Word Biblical Commentary : Luke 1:1-9:20 Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002.

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vol. 7. electronic ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964.

Resnick, Irven M. “Marriage in Medieval Culture : Consent Theory and the Case of Joseph and Mary.” Church History 69, no. 2 (2000): 350-371.

[1] Donald A. Hagner, Word Biblical Commentary: Matthew 1-13, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 16.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 17.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sarah Jane Boss, “Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary,” Theology Today 62, no. 1 (2005): 106.

[8] Ibid.

[9] John Nolland, Word Biblical Commentary : Luke 1:1-9:20, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 47.

[10] Ibid., 45.

[11] Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, electronic ed., vol. 7 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964), 399.

[12] Ibid.

[13] There are some rogue scholars that suggest Mary is already pregnant when Gabriel first visits her, because his greeting “The Lord is with thee” recorded in Luke 1:28. However, if the following verses (Luke 1:28-35) are taken into account, it is apparent that the overshadowing by God has not occurred yet.

[14] Lyn Holness, “Mary’s Womb as the ‘Space within Our Space for the Gestating Son of God’,” Religion & Theology 16, no. 1-2 (2009): 27.

[15] Irven M. Resnick, “Marriage in Medieval Culture : Consent Theory and the Case of Joseph and Mary,” Church History 69, no. 2 (2000): 354.

[16] Nolland, 62.

[17] J.P. Lange, Dods, Marcus, The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ: A Complete Critical Examination of the Origin, Contents, and Connection of the Gospels, 4 vols., vol. 1 (Edinburgh, London; Dublin: T&T Clark, 1872), 295.

[18] Jim Ernest Hunter, “Blessed Art Thou among Women : Mary in the History of Christian Thought,” Review & Expositor 83, no. 1 (1986): 35.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., 36.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, A Treatise on Nature and Grace, trans., Peter Holmes, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. V (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 135.

[27] Hunter: 36.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., 447.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid., 37.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Anselem, A Prayer to Saint Mary, A Scholastic Miscellany (New York: Macmillan, 1970), 202, 204, 205.

[36] Walter Hollenweger, Zwingli’s Devotion to Mary, Mary in Protestant Theology (One in Christ, 1980), 65.

[37] Hunter: 40.

[38] Ibid., 44.

Updated Dec 15, 2023 9:49:49am

A Contemplative, Biblical Analysis of Mary, Mother of Christ – Lesson 1

(For the next week, I will be doing a deep study on the Blessed Virgin Mary to prepare us for the celebration of the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ to this world; I hope you enjoy)

Lesson 1: What did Mary really know from her Jewish worldview?

The controversies of Mary in theological debates and Roman tradition and cults pale in importance when her actual sentient knowledge is examined through her eyes as the blessed mother of the Lord Jesus Christ. The journey to discover what Mary really knows during the most supernatural times of mankind’s history adds depth and awe to spiritual understanding of Christ as seen through His mother’s life. The purpose of these lessons is to examine the clear accounts and spiritual expressions of Mary through the Gospels of her Son, to encourage the same pondering of God’s will and ways as Mary quietly considers during her extraordinary life.

Our first lesson will analyze Mary’s probable knowledge concerning her life as it unfolds through the moving of God, with a review of the historical lifestyles and ideas surrounding the coming Messiah to the Jewish community to which she belongs. Our study begins in the period that is reflected between the Old and New Testaments in our Bible. This period is sometimes called the “Intertestamental Period.” It is a significant time that we must examine if we are to understand the ponderings concerning the things of God that are revealed to Mary throughout her life.

Daily life in Israel during Mary’s time

The daily life of 1st century Jewish women living in Israel is filled with tradition, religion, and laws of God and community that form duties and expectations for their lives. We cannot understand Mary fully, without first examining her daily environment to discover how she lives.

Cities are built haphazardly in 1st century Palestine, and the size is determined by the importance of the city. Water, police, toilet and sewage disposal are provided by some of the larger cities like Jerusalem. It is these larger walled cities that offer protection to the smaller towns, whose people would run for protection to escape approaching dangers.[1] Life is crowded, noisy, dangerous, and probably stinky. People lock their doors and shutter their windows, even emptying their chamber pots through the windows at night to prevent walking in the darkened streets.[2]

Houses in Israel during the 1st century are mostly stone dwellings with square or rectangular rooms, and one or more courtyards that are dependent upon the topography of the ground. Those houses on flat grounds have a central courtyard, but those located next to hills place their courtyard in marginal locations. The flat roofs, surrounded by a parapet, are the center of activity for Jewish families. The lower levels of their dwelling places are often windowless, and the upper level contained windows to allow light and air. Usually these windows are placed adjacent to the courtyard to allow light in the rear rooms.

The smooth plaster walls have some fresco and stucco decorations which become more prevalent in the 2nd century, with full embellishment of fresco occurring in the lavish houses of well-to-do Palestinians. Lower economic houses have simple dirt or rock floors; upper-class dwellings are made of polished, hewn stones and mosaics with rugs and mats fastened to the floors with nails. The level of decoration in the homes is determined by economic considerations and the amount of exposure to the Greco-Roman culture.

Roofs are used frequently for eating, praying, keeping fruits and vegetables, drying olives, and keeping animals. The courtyard is used for similar purposes and contain wells, drinking troughs, and baking vessels; cooking, wheat grinding, washing clothes and eating were some of the activities at this location. [3] Bathtubs and bath houses have been found in only the most luxurious dwellings. Usually, the courtyard was shared by tenants of two dwelling units.[4] The interior rooms are used for family dinners and special celebrations. These rooms are called the traklin, and considered the most important room in the house.[5] Furniture is often used to divide the rooms; sometimes plastered jars are used. Jars, chamber pots and outside watering places were the common places for bodily relief; few latrines are present in common Jewish homes in the 1st century.

An upper room is often referred to in the Bible, and different ones are important locations several times in the life of Mary and her Son Jesus. There are many houses in the 1st century Jerusalem which have upper rooms for gatherings and celebrations. Today, many churches, especially those of Syrian connection, claim to know the location of these important upper rooms; one church even has an ancient dedication written in stone proclaiming that:

This is the house of Mary [the] mother of John [who is] called Mark. The Apostles consecrated this as a church in the name of Mary the Mother of God, after the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ to heaven. [This house was] rebuilt in 73 after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus.[6]

This inscription suggests that this is the house of Mark that the Upper Room gathering immediately following Christ’s Ascension, in the presence of many witnesses, including Mary (Acts 1:13-14). A Syrian translation of the Gospels, specifically concerning the upper room in Acts 1:13, mistakenly uses the word élità that connects the upper room of Pentecost in Acts to that of the Last Supper of Christ in Luke 22:12.[7] This mistake is muddied by the imitation of the Syrian Gospel translation in Saint Jerome’s Vulgate even though Jerome indicates that “only the descent of the spirit occurred on Zion” making this idea of only one Upper Room unsupported.[8] It is important to note that there are few historically confirmed, authentic sites in Jerusalem; only the Temple Mount, the Pools of Bethesda, the Antonia Fortress with its Praetorium, and Herod’s Palace are known for certain.[9] Other site identifications are based mostly upon specific denominational belief, with the Catholics and the Protestants declaring their own interests in the identification of many disputed sites.[10] Thus, in our evaluation of Mary’s life, it is not profitable for us to search archaeological evidence of her presence; it is simply too misleading.

The Roman government is in charge of Palestine during the time of Mary’s life. Colonial status is given to the Jewish people, and they receive the same privileges in Roman law that are given to Roman citizens.[11] Of course, the Jewish people liked to keep the law, respect the Pharisees, pay their taxes, and observe festivals, as they keep a constant watch out for the Messiah to come as their prophets have spoken.[12] Often, they are tricked by one or another of the false Messiah’s because their zeal for religion has no theological grounding. They are politically separated by their differences; some follow the Romans and some were known as “Nationalists.” Many are loyal to a ruling family such as Herodians or the priestly family of Annas; some support the Pharisees, and some the Sadducees.[13]

During the time of Second Temple Judaism, Palestinian society moves away from family-centered units, which are replaced with association-type connections. Families are able to maintain their religious status, but societal religious life becomes prevalent.[14] The vast majority of Jews belongs to no group during the 1st century, and most are concerned only with meeting basic survival needs, and unable to participate in society functions that form specific interest groups.[15]

The Jewish family unit of 1st century Jerusalem is a patriarchy, ruled by the head male of the home with full authority over wife, children, and property. The wife is inferior to the husband; however, she is respected for her contributions to the family as she keeps the home and blesses her husband with new babies.[16]

Jewish belief in the Intertestamental Period

The Torah is the Holy Book of the Jews, and it regulates every aspect of their lives, including the food they eat, the clothes they wear, and focuses their attention in their religious and prayer practices through direct placement of Scripture that connects their lives to God.[17] There is an increased participation in private religious activities during the Second Temple period, and fasting becomes increasingly practiced by individual devout Jews in non-public places.[18]

Judaism is actually a diverse culture in the 1st century. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes are just three of many dominant groups that are part of the social structure of the Roman Empire in various degrees of association.

Pharisees – Though there are scant Second Temple evidences in rabbinic literature of Pharisees,[19] Scripture is highly reflective of the Pharisees’ nature. The Pharisees are self-focused men that give impression that they think themselves better than all other men, especially the vile publicans. They easily identify the sin of other men, while extolling their own self-perceived righteousness as they give public religious offerings to God and bless the world with their presence (Luke 18:10-13). They oppose Christ and want to destroy Him (Matthew 12:14), entrap His words (Matthew 22:15), and test Him (Mark 8:11). Christ warns His followers of the leaven that is dispersed by them into matters of faith, changing the Truth of God into tainted false belief (Matthew 23:13-29). These public conflicts with her son must surely have distressed mother Mary who seems at times listening to her son from the outskirts in a probable pondering posture, as is common to her nature.

The Pharisees sew tiny bells into their garments and wear garlands in their showy religious attire that raises them above all other sects. [20] They are the strictest in religious interpretations (Acts 23:6) that show bias by elevating their faulty beliefs over others and against the Word of God.[21] They are often characterized as a middle-class group; but, there is no middle-class in antiquity.[22]

Unlike the Publican Jews who are notorious and wretched sinners, the Pharisees are notoriously righteous men; though both go to pray at the temple, each have different results.[23] While the Publicans forsake God with sinners’ hearts, the Pharisees boast in the law of God. Yet, when examined by His Law, the Publicans are found dirty on their outsides with hardened hearts and confessing humbleness while the Pharisees are found filthy on their insides, though exalted in their own minds.[24] They take sides with the Herodians because they are spiritually blind to righteousness (Matthew 23:26).

Sadducees – Sadducees (also known as the Righteous Ones) are “sad you see” because they do not believe in the mysteries or supernatural events expressed by our LORD God and Lord Jesus Christ.[25] Their belief rejects the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18; Luke 20:27), and the resurrections of spirit and angels (Acts 23:8). Josephus describes Sadducees as originating from the upper class of society; however, there is no evidence that all Sadducees are from this higher economic level. Their social presence is superior to most Jews and through the scattered references in the writings of Josephus, Scripture, and Rabbinic literature, we are able to classify them as arrogant know-it-all’s who demand reasoned and visible proof before belief is validated.

The Sadducees are the least known of the influential religious groups in Second Temple Judaism; their views are not described in detail by contemporary sources. The richest detail of their religious outlook and position are found in the rabbinic corpus, especially in the Mishnah with support from the Tosefta, and the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds.[26] Unfortunately, this evidence is not as reliable or accurate because the material was edited by rabbinic Clerics centuries after the destruction of the Temple, when their sect was no longer present. Also, Pharisaic superiority is reflected in the Clerics opinions, thus possibly corrupting the knowledge we have concerning the Sadducees sect.

However, to understand Mary’s mindset, we must include an evaluation of the Sadducees presence in her world. The Sadducees hold the strictest views of the laws concerning Sabbath, the penal code, and ritual purity. Their strict adherences to purity restrictions, unlike the Pharisees who maintain a moderate interpretation of God’s laws, emphasize purity laws involving gender and sexual taboos.[27] Their strict pronouncements prohibiting sexual intercourse before marriage, and the possible punishment of stoning for the guilty maiden woman that is deflowered, must surely have been in her thoughts as her belly swelled with our Lord’s presence within her.

Essenes – Unmentioned in Scripture, though accounted by Josephus, Philo, and Gentile Pliny the Elder and made famous by the special writings they possibly stored in jars in the Dead Sea area, the Essenes separate themselves from normal Jewish society.[28] They are a Jewish sect in a Qumran community that withdraw themselves from the world and focus solely upon the things of God. However, they are never completely cut off from the Jewish society and remain a part of Judaism, taxpayers to Hasmoneans and Romans, and a known influence outside their society.[29]

Mary’s second cousin, known later in his ministry as John the Baptist, is thought to be part of this group at one time in his life, because his separatist preaching seems attached to the Essenes ideology. [30] While proof of John’s association is historically non-existent, his geographical proximity in the desert of Judea and his ministry in the Jordan Valley (Mat 3:1; Luke 1:80) is close to Qumran. Because John’s voice makes the path of the Lord straight as he cries the message in the wilderness, many think it to be a fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3, a common theme of the Essenes. Further, John’s teaching of repentance and the participation in the water ritual is similar to the Essenes’ practices at Qumran.[31] So, the young babe that leaps in Elisabeth’s womb upon coming close to Mary’s womb that swaddles the Son of God might well have been trained by the Essenes sect to prepare him for his important ministry work to prepare sinners to meet the Lord.

Messianic expectations reflected in titles

Mary is the first disciple of Jesus Christ, because she submits to the will of God in her acceptance of Christ; in that assent, she accepts within her the promised Messiah that all devout Jewish people long to come. Mary’s pondering must surely have included the weighing of the different messianic expectations that were present in the Intertestamental Period between the Old and New Testament times. An examination of these different expectations of the coming Messiah allows us to consider the same things that Mary might have considered in her own mind, as she awaits the birth of the Messiah to come forth.

Messiah[32] – The Messiah could be any person given special powers by God, especially those set aside as priest or king through anointment; all of these are called Messiah in 1st Century Judaism. The title of Messiah, which means anointed, develops into the word Christ in the New Testament. In the New Testament King James AV translations, Messiah is used when the Greek has a definite article and Christ when there is no article. The absolute form without the definite article denoting Christ is not found in early Judaism; but, the idea of a leader set aside, anointed and placed in position with special powers by God is identified in the Intertestamental period.[33]

Levitic Messiah[34] – Some long for a Messiah that originates from the tribe of Levi during the Intertestamental period and this Levitic Messiah is expected to be at a higher rank over the political Davidic Messiah.[35] However, for most religious Jews there is no need for a messiah as long as the altar is effective; there is absolutely nothing a religious messiah could do that the altar could not accomplish.[36] So while the promise of eternal priesthood as reward for Phinehas’ zealousness for God (Num. 25:10-13) is considered by the Jews to be a matter of fact, the Levitic Messiah was more a high priest concept that conducts proper sacrifice at the altar.

Son of Man[37] – Daniel 7:13-14, 2 Esdras, and 1 Enoch (37-71) all mention a son of man that has attributes so similar they are often thought to be same person.[38] The Son of Man is revealed in these combined writings to be preexistent, heavenly, majestic, possessing dominion, and one day judging mankind and angels. But, there is some debate among scholars whether the Son of Man and Messiah are the same being before Jesus Christ in the thoughts of Jews.[39] In the fourth Gospel of John the Son of God virtually merges with the Son of Man, first introducing Him as mediator of the redemptive powers of heaven (John 3:14-15; 12:31) which harmonizes Christology doctrine in John’s gospel of the Father and the Son, and brings the Son of Man in Daniel 7 into full revelation.[40]

The Servant of the Lord[41] – The Servant Songs in Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-7; 50:4-11; and 52:13-53:12 speak of the Servant of the LORD (Hebrew: ‘ebed YHWH). There is no clear identity to this servant, whether he is idealized or a real being, and there are separate attributes dependent upon perspective.[42] For instance, God’s perspective of the Servant is that he is chosen by Him and brings Him pleasure. God promises to anoint him with the Spirit (which is fully revealed in Isaiah 11:1-5 in the Messianic verses attached later to Christ), and rise up in his defense of the Servant at some point. However, the perspective of humans shows the Servant of the LORD to be rejected, mocked, tortured, and killed in the place of many who should have suffered, making them righteous before God (Isaiah 53).

Intertestamental Judaism has both collective and individual understandings of the term; however, Hellenistic Judaism characterizes the Servant of the Lord as a servant that is persecuted and suffers as a just man. Thus, there are some scholars that argue for the possibility that some Intertestamental Jews expect a suffering Messiah, especially with reference to Isaiah 53:11.[43] However, Emil Schüer argues in History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ that it is not the idea of a suffering Messiah, but rather, the idea of a suffering Messiah that had atonement value, that should be questioned.[44] This raises the same point as the Levitic Messiah who is basically unneeded if the altar is properly used. It was probably only in learned circles on the periphery of Judaism in the Intertestamental period that expects some sort of suffering eschatological figure before the Christian era.[45]

The Prophet like Moses[46] – Deuteronomy 18:9-22 promises to raise up a Prophet like Moses to speak to them about their worship of idols and using magic for divine revelation and guidance. During the Intertestamental period, some Jews thought another Moses would come to them to lead them on a new exodus from bondage, renew the covenant between them and God, give new revelation of the things of God, and become their new national founder.[47] This idea of a Prophet like Moses is said to be parodied in the book of Jonah as a reverse Moses, enforcing some Jewish messianic expectations of a Prophet like Moses to one day come, easily to discern the differences between the parodied Jonah vs. the real presence of a Moses-like prophet.[48]

Elijah[49] – At every Passover Seder Meal an extra glass of wine is poured to tempt Elijah to return, even today. Some Intertestamental Jews think that Elijah will come once again, but this time to prepare the path for the Messiah. Others claim Elijah to be the actual Messiah, who will one day be resurrected to lead them.[50]

Scholar Morris M. Faierstein surveys the leading scholar citations concerning Jewish Messianic ideas of Elijah’s coming, and examines common evidences presented in defense of Intertestamental period belief. If Justinian’s reference in Dial. 8.3; 49.1 is excluded, there is no evidence of the concept of Elijah as forerunner of the Messiah as widely known during the first century C.E.[51] Scholar Dale C. Allison gives Faierstein credit for raising the question of scholars generalizing the universality of belief that Elijah would appear shortly before the Messiah; however, he cautions scholars to avoid the suggestion that Christians are responsible for the idea.[52] Since Christ addresses this issue, and the Scribes are speaking specifically about this in Scripture references Mark and Matthew, it reliably reveals the thoughts during Christ’s presence; however, there is scant evidence of when this thought of Elijah proceeding Christ develops and no solid proof that it is thought during the Intertestamental period.

Savior[53] – This concept is prominent in Old Testament, Intertestamental writings and Hellenism.[54] This title is almost exclusively applied to God and Jesus Christ,[55] and represents the idea of rescue and deliverance that is fully developed into theological truths throughout Scripture.

Judge[56] – This concept is also prominent in Old Testament, Intertestamental writings and Hellenism.[57] It reflects the both the position and the work of Old Testament Judges as well as bring forth the expanded idea of a rescuer of people from dangerous situations or rejection by God. Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Daniel, and Jewish apocalyptic writers apply the Judge name for the name or description of the Messiah liberally. 4 Ezra [= 2 Esdras], written after the Domitian reign and destruction of Jerusalem, depicts the Messiah gathering the tribes of Israel, destroying enemies and bringing judgment. 2 Baruch, written after Jerusalem’s destruction, looks for the rule of the Messiah to brings commendation to the righteous and condemnation to the wicked through his judgment.[58]

Deliverer[59] – This concept is also prominent in Old Testament, Intertestamental writings and Hellenism.[60] The idea that God, the deliverer of His people from danger or exile, will use a human agent such as the Messiah is partially supported in Scripture, though the OT tends to stress that God acts alone; Joseph was God’s agent to deliver the Chosen people from famine (Genesis 45:7), Esther was warned by Mordecai that God would provide another if she failed to deliver (Esther 4:14), and Othniel and Ehud are deliverers in battle (Judges 3:9, 15).[61] The Messianic prophecies in the Book of Isaiah announce the coming Deliverer who will bring an everlasting deliverance (Isaiah 9:1-9:7), giving full support to Jews in the Intertestamental period of one part of the nature of the Messiah.

Shepherd[62] – Ezekiel 34:11-16 presents an image of a shepherd gathering together God’s scattered people. There are also a messianic terms in the context of Zechariah 11:4-17 and Zechariah 13:7. The Lord Jesus Christ completes these messianic shadows by teaching parables such as the parable of the lost sheep found in Luke 15:1-7.

Word[63] – The powerful title of Word is firmly established in John 1:1-5, and gives Christian’s confidence that Scripture reflects the inerrant Word of God. However, author Scott makes a point that “Wisdom” is so close in meaning to the way “Word” is used in the title reflecting Christ, and both of these words are assumed to come from a Hellenistic environment, with possible Hebrew roots.[64] Psalm 119, an acrostic song in praise of the Scriptures, typologically reflects the depth of love for Scripture that is often expressed by believers toward their Lord as an expression of the Word of God.

Righteous or Just One[65] – 2 Samuel, the Septuagint of Isaiah 3:10, Isaiah 32:1 and Isaiah 53:11 are just some of many references to the coming Messiah using these titles. This title is confirmed by Stephen in Acts 7:52.

Branch[66] – The branch or shoot used as coming from the offspring of David can be found in Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5, Jeremiah 33:15, Zechariah 3:8, and Zechariah 6:12. This title is of great typological significance later on as the Lord teaches his followers about doing works to glorify Him by bringing them to fruition through the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) and recognizing the corrupt fruit of the wicked (Matthew 7:15-20).

Elect or Chosen One[67] – Scripture reflects these titles, which confirms the knowledge of the 1st century Jew, in Isaiah 42:1, 43:10, and 44:1 with connection to Israel. 1 Enoch makes several references to this title also (45:3-5; 49:2; 51:3-4; 52:6,9; 53:6; 55:4; 61:8; 62:1).

Son of God or Son of David[68] – Isaiah 9:6-7, 1 Enoch 105:2; 2 Esdras 7:28-29; 13:32, 37, 52; 14:9 all make reference to either the Son of God or the Son of David. This provides ample proof that 1st century Jews connected the Messiah to these titles.

Stone[69] – The stone as becomes the foundation (Isaiah 28:16) placed by the LORD God, as a sanctuary for believers (Psalm118:22) and a stumbling block for the disobedient Jews (Isaiah 8:14); that stone is later revealed to be the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 21:42).

Many different meanings were attached to the coming messiah, and most referenced in the Old Testament. But, there is more for Mary to consider, because the probable lineage of the Messiah was well-known by Jews who studied the writings of the prophets of God. The revelations that Messiah will originate from the Tribe of David make the lineage of messianic claims to be of crucial importance.

The ancestry of Mary and Joseph

Luke 3:23-38 traces Mary’s lineage backwards from her son Jesus to the Son of God from the beginning of time. This genealogical record gives absolute, irrefutable proof from the Word of God that the babe from Mary’s womb is in fact the Son of God in human form.

Matthew 1:1-17 traces Joseph’s (Mary’s husband) lineage from Abraham through David to Jesus. This genealogy confirms the fulfillment of OT that Jesus would come from the throne of David. His legal father Joseph is shown to come from the lineage of Solomon and his descendants. The genealogy of Christ in both Luke and Matthew confirm that the Son of God, the Messiah, the Christ come to save sinners, fulfilled the OT prophesy perfectly.

Conclusion

We cannot understand the deep pondering of Mary if we do not consider the things upon her heart and mind in the time she lived. The Intertestamental Period was a specific time with a great deal of political and religious changes that become important issues during the time of Christ. And, the ideas concerning the coming Messiah reflect the worldview that was present in the time of Mary, allow us to consider her thoughts on his identity, before contact with Gabriel occurs that announces the coming birth of Christ. Our next Lesson 2, “What did Mary know through her virginity and the conception of our Lord?” will examine some of the most intimate parts of Mary’s inner being and outer belief, helping us to discover the things of God emulated through Mary.

Bibliography

Allison, Dale C. “Elijah Must Come First.” Journal of Biblical Literature 103, (1984).

Borchert, Gerald L. John 12-21. Vol. 25B The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holmon Publishers, 2003.

Brand, Chad, Charles Draper, Archie England, et al. Holmon Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003.

Bunyan, John. A Discourse Upon the Pharisee and Publican. Vol. 2. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2006.

Christensen, Duane L. Word Biblical Commentary: Deuteronomy 1-21:9 Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002.

Cross, F.L. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Dobrena, Thomas John. “Questions of the Upper Room.” Springfielder 37, no. 2 (1973): 97-107.

Elwell, Walter A., Barry J. Beitzel. Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1988.

Faierstein, Morris M. “Why Do the Scribes Say That Elijah Must Come First.” Journal of Biblical Literature 100, (1981).

Galor, Katharina. Domestic Dwellings in Roman Palestine The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Hacham, Noah. Fasting The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, Edited by John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Hutchison, John C. “Was John the Baptist an Essene from Qumran?” Bibliotheca sacra 159, no. 634 (2002): 187-200.

Kistemaker, Simon J., and William Hendriksen. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles. Vol. 17 New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001.

Neusner, Jacob. The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary. Vol. 3. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011.

Neusner, Jacob, Alan J. Avery-Peck et al. The Encyclopedia of Judaism. Vol. 2: Brill, 2000.

Regev, Eyal. “The Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Sacred: Meaning and Ideology in the Halakhic Controversies between the Sadducees and Pharisees.” Review of Rabbinic Judaism 9, (2006): 126-140.

Saldarini, Anthony J. Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society: A Sociological Approach. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.; Livonia, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Dove Booksellers, 2001.

Scott, Julius J. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1995.

Sivertsev, Alexei. Family Religion The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism, Edited by John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

[1] Julius J. Scott, Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1995), 240.

[2] Ibid., 241.

[3] Katharina Galor, Domestic Dwellings in Roman Palestine, The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 549.

[4] Jacob Neusner, The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary, vol. 3 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 350-351.

[5] Ibid., 347-348.

[6] Thomas John Dobrena, “Questions of the Upper Room,” Springfielder 37, no. 2 (1973): 102-103.

[7] Ibid., 98.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 97.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Gerald L. Borchert, John 12-21, The New American Commentary, vol. 25B (Nashville: Broadman & Holmon Publishers, 2003), 226.

[12] Scott, 235-238.

[13] Ibid., 238.

[14] Alexei Sivertsev, Family Religion, ed. John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow, The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 633.

[15] Scott, 234.

[16] Ibid., 249.

[17] Ibid., 251.

[18] Noah Hacham, Fasting, ed. John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow, The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 635.

[19] Anthony J. Saldarini, Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees in Palestinian Society: A Sociological Approach (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.; Livonia, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; Dove Booksellers, 2001), 9.

[20] John Bunyan, A Discourse Upon the Pharisee and Publican, vol. 2 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2006), 219.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Saldarini, 12.

[23] Bunyan, 221-222.

[24] Ibid., 222.

[25] Saldarini, 3.

[26] Eyal Regev, “The Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Sacred: Meaning and Ideology in the Halakhic Controversies between the Sadducees and Pharisees,” Review of Rabbinic Judaism 9, (2006): 129-135.

[27] Ibid., 135.

[28] Scott, 214.

[29] Saldarini, 6.

[30] John C. Hutchison, “Was John the Baptist an Essene from Qumran?,” Bibliotheca sacra 159, no. 634 (2002): 187-200.

[31] Ibid., 191.

[32] Scott, 309.

[33] F.L. Cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1082.

[34] Scott, 311.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Jacob Neusner, Alan J. Avery-Peck et al., The Encyclopedia of Judaism, vol. 2 (Brill, 2000), 877-878.

[37] Scott, 311.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid., 313.

[40] Neusner, The Encyclopedia of Judaism, lxxxiii.

[41] Scott, 314-317.

[42] Ibid., 314.

[43] Ibid., 316.

[44] Ibid., 317.

[45] Ibid., 318.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Duane L. Christensen, Word Biblical Commentary: Deuteronomy 1-21:9, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), Deuteronomy 18:21-22.

[49] Scott, 318-319.

[50] Ibid., 319.

[51] Morris M. Faierstein, “Why Do the Scribes Say That Elijah Must Come First,” Journal of Biblical Literature 100, (1981): 85.

[52] Dale C. Allison, “Elijah Must Come First,” Journal of Biblical Literature 103, (1984): 258.

[53] Scott, 319.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Walter A. Elwell, Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1988), 1911.

[56] Scott, 319.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Simon J. Kistemaker, and William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Book of Revelation, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953-2001), 49-50.

[59] Scott, 319.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England, et al., Holmon Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 411.

[62] Scott, 319.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid., 320.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Ibid.

Updated Dec 14, 2023 10:35:15am