Had Ye Believed Moses
By Arlen L. Chitwood
He Wrote of Me
Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you — Moses, in whom you trust.
For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me.
But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words? (John 5:45-47).
At the time of Christ’s first coming, the religious leaders in Israel belonged mainly to one of three different sects — the Pharisees, the Sadducees, or the Herodians. There were other religious sects in Israel at this time, but these were the only ones that held any real prominence and are the only ones mentioned in the gospel accounts.
The Pharisees came from the ranks of the scribes (Gk., grammateus, a form of the word from which our English word “grammar” is derived). The scribes were professional students of the Old Testament and were themselves Pharisees, though a distinct class of Pharisees. They were the scholars, the ones versed in the Scriptures, the interpreters of Scripture. Then, the larger body of Pharisees (which would include the scribes) took these teachings from the Scriptures and translated them into public life for the nation.
The Pharisees formed, by far, the largest religious sect in Israel. And, because of their numbers, they held undisputed sway over the masses. They controlled, in an undisputed manner, the religious life of the nation. They were influential in this respect to the point that even the Sadducees (the second largest religious sect in Israel), in official acts, invariably had to acquiesce to their wishes or demands in order to retain harmony with the people.
Thus, because of their position in Israel, it was almost always the Pharisees (with their scribes singled out and mentioned with them numerous times) who were seen following Christ, listening to Him, observing His actions, and commenting (almost always in a negative manner) on that which was being said and done. The Pharisees formed the central religious body in Israel to whom the Jewish people looked for direction in matters of this nature.
The Sadducees are mentioned a few times in this connection, with the Herodians being mentioned even less. The Sadducees though, seeking to counter Christ, are seen several times joining themselves with the Pharisees, undoubtedly because of the influential position held by the Pharisees (cf. Matthew 3:7; 16:1ff); and this is the only way the Herodians are seen in their attempts to counter Christ the three times that they are mentioned in the gospel accounts (cf. Matthew 22:16; Mark 3:6; 12:13).
It was the fundamental scholars, the interpreters and teachers of Scripture (the Pharisees, with their scribes), who took that which Moses and the Prophets had written and, through this means, controlled the religious life of the nation. They sat “in Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:1, 2). And, occupying this position, they interpreted and taught the Scriptures in an undisputed manner.
But the Pharisees, holding to the very letter of that which Scripture had to say, were failing to see anything beyond the letter of Scripture. They were taking that which, in its entirety, was about Christ and were failing to see Christ at all. The very interpreters and teachers of Scripture, in reality, couldn’t understand the things that they were interpreting and teaching.
And, not understanding their own Scriptures, they had no means to understand the One of Whom these Scriptures spoke. They had no base to work from in order to properly assess the Messenger, His message, or the miraculous signs being manifested.
But, even though they lacked the means to place Christ’s ministry and teaching within the context of the Scriptures that they interpreted and taught, they still knew Christ’s identity.
Nicodemus, a teacher among the Pharisees, had come to Jesus by night and confessed, “Rabbi, we know [the Pharisees] that You art a teacher come from God: for no one can do these signs that you do unless God be with him” (John 3:1, 2, 10).
And in the parable of the householder (landowner) and his vineyard (Matthew 21:33ff), Christ made it very clear that the Pharisees knew exactly Who He was. He was “the Heir” of the vineyard; and because they knew this, they rose up against Him and eventually killed Him (vv. 38, 39, 45).
The Pharisees knew Who they were following about the country, seeking to counter at every turn. False prophets had come and gone through centuries of time, and they had commanded little attention from Israel’s religious leaders. Israel’s religious leaders had known that these individuals were false. But with Christ, the matter was entirely different. Christ did command the attention of Israel’s religious leaders, for they knew that He wasn’t one of the numerous false prophets who had appeared. They knew that He was “a teacher come from God,” “the Heir” of the vineyard.
This though was not something gleaned from their knowledge of the Scriptures but from the supernatural signs being manifested. These signs were to have been a means of opening their eyes to the truth concerning Christ, which could then have been seen within the Scriptures in their possession (cf. Luke 24:30, 31; Matthew 13:14, 15).
But, as was later the case with the religious leaders at the time of the stoning of Stephen in Acts chapter seven, they wanted nothing to do with seeing Christ within that which they interpreted and taught. They closed their eyes to the very truth that they should have understood and should have been teaching. They, as the religious leaders at the time of Stephen’s death, wanted only to quiet the One referencing such things. And, as a result, because of their sway over the masses, the Jewish people were being completely misled.
The scribes and Pharisees were shutting up the kingdom of the heavens in the people’s presence. The scribes and Pharisees weren’t going to enter the kingdom, and they were doing everything within their power to prevent any of the people under their influence and sway from entering the kingdom as well (Matthew 23:13).
Moses or Christ
Christ’s reference in John 5:39ff to the Jewish people searching their own Scriptures and failing to understand these Scriptures immediately follows the account of His healing a man on the Sabbath day and, at the same time, commanding the man to arise, take up his bed, and walk (vv. 8, 9). Because Christ had done this, the Jewish people looked upon it as a violation of the law of the Sabbath, and they sought to slay Him (v. 16). Then, with Christ commenting on the matter and equating Himself with God in the process, they sought even the more to slay Him (vv. 17, 18).
Christ, through His actions surrounding a man being healed on the Sabbath in John chapter five, had performed a sign (the third of seven signs in John’s gospel), which pointed to something beyond the person being healed. This sign — the healing of an individual — pointed to the healing of the nation. It pointed to that which the entire nation could experience, if the nation would repent, in accord with the message being proclaimed (cf. Matthew 3:2; 4:17, 23-25; 10:5-8).
(The seven signs recorded in John’s gospel begin with the marriage in Canaan of Galilee in chapter two and end with the resurrection of Lazarus in chapter eleven. These signs were directed to the Jewish people [1 Corinthians 1:22] — the same people to whom the offer of the kingdom of the heavens was being extended — and were given during Christ’s earthly ministry to call Israel’s attention to things surrounding the message being proclaimed, which should have resulted in belief [John 20:31].
The Greek word for “sign [semeion]” appears seventeen times in John’s gospel. However, in thirteen of these seventeen times, the word has been translated “miracle” [KJV], which, for the purposes intended by the use of the word semeion, is misleading. The sign was a miraculous work; but the word semeion means “sign,” not “miracle,” and should have been so translated throughout this gospel.)
Spiritually, Israel was sick — a fact that the signs being performed directly addressed. And Israel had been sick for centuries, which matter was dealt with extensively in the Old Testament. Isaiah, over seven hundred years before Christ appeared to Israel, described Israel’s condition at the beginning of his prophecy possibly as well as any of the prophets:
Alas, sinful nation, A people laden with iniquity, A brood of evildoers, Children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward.
Why should you be stricken again? You will revolt more and more. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faints.
From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment. (Isaiah 1:4-6).
Isaiah’s prophecy, part of the Scriptures in Israel’s possession at the time this sign was manifested, described Israel’s condition during Isaiah’s day, looking toward the future captivities (the Assyrian [722 B.C.] and the Babylonian [605 B.C.]). But this condition (resulting from Israel’s disobedience [Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 28]), for lack of Israel’s repentance, remained unchanged during the centuries that followed; and this was the condition in which the nation found itself when Messiah appeared.
And when Israel’s Messiah appeared, He, through a manifestation of signs, showed the Jewish people what they could have, if . . . . The nation could experience the same healing (though spiritual) that individuals were experiencing, if . . . .
The entire nation, if the nation would repent, could experience supernatural healing and provision within the proffered kingdom. And the Jewish people, not understanding their own Scriptures, failed to grasp and understand both their true condition (sick, “from the sole of the foot even to the head”) and the significance of the manifested signs in connection with the message concerning the kingdom (proffered healing and provision within the kingdom).
Beyond that, this healing of an individual occurred on the Sabbath day, pointing within the sign to that future day when Israel would be healed. And had the Jewish people understood the significance of their own Sabbath (given by Moses, as a sign [Exodus 31:12-17]) and the significance of a man being healed on the Sabbath day (a sign in connection with the sign of the Sabbath), they would have been able to understand exactly what was occurring. Instead, they saw only that which they wanted to see — a person breaking the law of the Sabbath. And they sought to slay Him for this act.
A sign dealing with this same thing is also seen in John chapter nine (the sixth sign in John’s gospel), where reference is again made to Moses. In this chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus is again seen healing a man on the Sabbath day — pointing again to that which the entire nation could experience, if . . . . (vv. 6-14).
This time though there was an open division among those individuals observing the sign, and this division was within the ranks of the Pharisees themselves. Some of the Pharisees questioned the sign on the basis that it had been done on the Sabbath; but others couldn’t overlook the miraculous work itself, openly questioning how this man, if a sinner, could do such things (v. 16).
(Note, according to Nicodemus’ earlier statement [John 3:1, 2], all of these Pharisees were probably aware of that which only part of them confessed — the true identity of Christ. And those who didn’t want to acknowledge the validity of that which had been done sought to counter the sign through viewing it as a violation of the Sabbath, as had been done by those observing the earlier sign performed on the Sabbath, recorded in chapter five.)
At this point though, rather than attack Christ (as He had been attacked by those observing the sign in chapter five), they attacked the one who had been healed — first through the individual himself (vv. 10-17), then through his parents (vv. 18-23), and then through the individual again (vv. 24-33).
Seeking to discredit that which had been done through both the individual and his parents proved unsuccessful. But, still knowing that a miraculous sign had been performed by “the heir” of the vineyard, the Pharisees attempted the only thing left. They attempted to do away with the sign itself by taking the man who had been healed and casting him out (v. 34).
2) We Are… We Know…
In the light of that which the Pharisees knew and that which had been done, this act on their part was amazing enough in itself (cf. John 11:43-47, 53; 12:10); but probably the most amazing thing that the Pharisees did in all of their actions surrounding the healing of this man on the Sabbath was their referring to Moses.
Christ was the One Who had referred to Moses in the previous healing on the Sabbath (John 5:45-47). And, in so doing, He called attention to that which was true. Here though the Pharisees were the ones who referred to Moses (vv. 28, 29). And, in so doing, they could only call attention to that which was false:
Then they reviled him and said, “You are His disciple, but we are Moses' disciples.
We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where He is from.” (John 9:28, 29)
These Pharisees saw no connection between the writings of Moses and the actions of Christ. Thus, they, in reality, had no understanding of that which Moses had written. And not understanding the writings of Moses, how could they understand the message and works of Christ? They couldn’t. Such would have been impossible.
The picture in Israel at Christ’s first coming was that of fundamental religious leaders who had no understanding of that which they interpreted and taught — their own Scriptures. And, through this means, they were blindly leading a nation which was sick, “from the sole of the foot even to the head.”
And, combined with this, these religious leaders knew who Christ was, though not from their Scriptures. They knew, from the supernatural signs being manifested, that He was “the heir” of the vineyard.
But these religious leaders, controlling this inheritance themselves, had no desire to relinquish their position. They were the ones occupying “Moses’ seat” in the vineyard, and they weren’t about to allow another to usurp the position that they held. Thus, they did everything within their power to do away with “the heir.” They did everything within their power to “seize [keep in their possession] his inheritance” (Matthew 21:38).
The literal rendering of Matthew 21:38, showing the spiritual condition of Israel’s religious leaders, along with the true reason for their actions, would be thus:
But when the husbandmen [the ones placed in charge of the vineyard, those occupying Moses’ seat, the scribes and Pharisees] saw the Son, they said among themselves, “This is the Heir: come, let us kill Him, and let us retain possession of His inheritance.”
Thus, with Israel’s central religious leadership in a spiritual condition of this nature and controlling the religious life of the nation, which was itself in a similar spiritual condition, is it any wonder that the Jewish people acted as they did? Is it any wonder that they rejected their King and the proffered kingdom, chose an insurrectionist and murderer over Christ (Barabbas), cried out for Jesus’ crucifixion, and, concluded the whole matter by pledging regal allegiance to a pagan Gentile king (Caesar)?
Woe To You
The record of events occurring in Israel at Christ’s first coming is an account of that which can and did happen when the leadership not only didn’t believe Moses but sought, above everything else, their own personal gain and well-being. As a result, they took an entire nation down with them. And, in so doing, they placed an entire nation under the condemnation of blood, extending all the way back to “righteous Abel” (Matthew 23:34, 35; 27:25).
And the end result of their actions was twofold: 1) a nation continuing in its unclean state, though now something new was to be added — contact with a dead body, that of their Messiah — producing an even further uncleanness, one from which they could not be cleansed for two days, 2,000 years (Numbers 19:11, 12, 19). And 2) the house of Israel (the nation) was to be left desolate, awaiting the one (Antichrist) who would bring about an even further desolation (Matthew 23:37-39; cf. Daniel 9:26, 27; John 5:43).
Thus, the actions of the scribes and Pharisees at Christ’s first coming had far-reaching negative ramifications, ramifications that would govern the course of Israeli history for the succeeding two millennia and end with the darkest hour in all of Jewish history. Israel would be scattered among the nations and would find no rest (Leviticus 26:32-39; Deuteronomy 28:63-67). The entire two millennia would, itself, be a troublous time for the nation; but this period would be climaxed by a time of unparalleled trouble.
And the whole of this period would be a time of shed blood, but not that seen in the antitype of Exodus chapter twelve. Israel’s appropriation of this blood lies at the end of the time of trouble, not during this time.
During the time of trouble, lasting two millennia, it would be Israeli blood itself that would be shed. All of the Israeli blood shed from Titus coming against Jerusalem with His Roman legions in 70 A.D. to Hitler’s aspirations for a Jew-free Europe immediately preceding and during World War 2, during the years 1939-1945, can be attributed solely to one thing — that resulting from Israel’s religious leaders misleading an entire nation during the time Christ was on earth the first time.
But the darkest day emanating out of that which occurred almost two millennia ago still lies in the future. It will occur within the framework of Daniel’s unfulfilled Seventieth Week (Daniel 9:26b, 27; Revelation 6:1-18:24) — the final seven years of the preceding dispensation — when the desolated house is desolated even further. And this period will result in a time of such unparalleled trouble that, “except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved” (Matthew 24:15-22).
The simple fact of the matter is that God does not, He will not, take lightly the actions of religious leaders misleading the people in matters pertaining to His Son and His Son’s coming kingdom. And it matters not whether reference is made to leadership in Israel during the past dispensation or to leadership in Christendom during the present dispensation. God’s perfect justice and righteousness surrounding His dealings with His people does not, it cannot, change from one dispensation to the next.
Dire consequences followed in the wake of religious leadership of this nature in the past, consequences that have lasted for an entire dispensation (the present dispensation, during which time the nation of Israel — having been misled by her religious leaders — is out of favor with God and is set aside); and dire consequences of an equally serious nature will follow in the wake of religious leadership of this nature during the present time, consequences that will again last for an entire dispensation (the Messianic Era, during which time numerous Christians — having been misled by their religious leaders — will be out of favor with God and will be set aside).
1) You Shut Up the Kingdom
The scribes and Pharisees, those to whom the people of Israel looked for leadership in the spiritual life of the nation, completely misled the Jewish people. And, as a result, these fundamental religious leaders heard words of condemnation from the lips of Christ unlike anything Christ had ever said to anyone at any time within any other religious group in Israel.
An entire chapter has been given over to this matter in Matthew (chapter 23). And, after stating the position that the scribes and Pharisees occupied in Israel — sitting “in Moses’ seat” (v. 2) — Christ called attention to that which they were doing, along with their self-exalting ways (vv. 3-12).
He then pronounced a “woe” on the scribes and Pharisees, giving the reason for that “woe” and for seven more that would follow (v. 13). Israel’s religious leaders had closed the door to the offer of the kingdom of the heavens to the nation. They were not about to relinquish their position to “the heir” of the vineyard.
And, resultantly, they had no interest in the proffered kingdom. They were not going to enter this kingdom, and they, through the course of Christ’s ministry, had done all within their power to prevent anyone else in Israel from entering as well.
Then Christ continued with one “woe” after another, referring to the scribes and Pharisees, among other things, as “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” “fools,” those likened to “whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and all uncleanness,” “the children of them which killed the prophets,” and a “generation of vipers” (vv. 14ff).
This was Christ’s analysis at His first coming, near the termination of His ministry, of the fundamental religious leadership in Israel. They held to and taught the very letter of Scripture; but, in the process, they didn’t understand anything beyond the letter and, thus, couldn’t teach the true content of these Scriptures at all.
These were the fundamental religious scholars of that day, the ones learned in the Scriptures. These were the ones to whom the people looked for spiritual leadership. These were the ones controlling the religious life of the nation.
These also were the ones who could have, and should have, taken the nation to the mountaintop in its spiritual life. But, instead of ascending the mountain and taking the nation with them, they had descended into the lowest valley; and, through their control over the spiritual life of the people, they had taken the nation down with them.
And this is not something peculiar to Israel relative to the message surrounding the kingdom of the heavens at Christ’s first coming. Exactly the same thing was prophesied to happen, and is happening, in Christendom relative to the message surrounding the kingdom of the heavens immediately preceding Christ’s return (cf. Matthew 13:3-33; Revelation 2, 3).
The leadership in Christendom will have no more to do with the message surrounding the kingdom of the heavens today, immediately preceding Christ return, than would the leadership in Israel at the time of Christ’s first coming. And this isn’t something seen just in the liberal segment of Christendom but in the fundamental segment as well. This can be seen in all of Christendom, as it was seen among all of Israel’s religious leaders (the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians together) two millennia ago.
This was that which the entirety of Israel’s religious leadership had in common when Christ was on earth the first time, and it is also that which the entirety of the Church’s religious leadership has in common immediately preceding Christ’s return today.
The Pharisees were not condemned for their adherence to the letter of the law, or for their legalism; nor, if it had been the Sadducees, would they have been condemned for their liberalism; nor, if it had been the Herodians, would they have been condemned for their political ambitions within Herod’s kingdom. Rather, the Pharisees were condemned for closing the door to the offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Israel. And it would have been the same had it been the Sadducees or the Herodians who had been condemned in this fashion by Christ.
And, bringing all of this down into Christendom, the religious leaders of today who are misleading the people relative to the proffered kingdom of the heavens will be condemned for exactly the same reason Christ condemned the religious leaders in Israel. Condemnation, after this fashion, will not result from fundamentalism, legalism, liberalism, or political ambitions within the present kingdom. None of these things even enters into the matter in relation to that which is in view. Rather, condemnation will result from their having closed the door to the offer of the kingdom of the heavens to Christians.
2) Sons of Gehenna
Christ, at the very first part of His condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees for their having misled the people relative to the proffered kingdom, referred to their making proselytes and to that which they, in reality, had done in the process:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell [Gk., huion Geennes, ‘son of Gehenna’] as yourselves (Matthew 23:15; cf. v. 33).
“Sonship” in relation to Gehenna rather than “sonship” in relation to the kingdom of the heavens is that which is in view. “Sonship” implies rulership. Only “sons” can rule within God’s kingdom (cf. Exodus 4:22, 23; Job 1:6; 2:1; Ezekiel 28:14; Matthew 3:17; 4:3, 6, 8; Romans 8:19-23). That’s the way it has always been, that’s the way it presently exists, and that’s the way it will always continue.
At Christ’s first coming, a kingdom was in the offing; and only “sons” could rule within this kingdom. But the scribes and Pharisees had “shut up” the proffered kingdom (v. 13), and now only one thing could remain — an association of “sons” with Gehenna rather than with the kingdom.
The reference concerning the scribes and Pharisees making proselytes would not pertain to a proselyte of the gate (the conversion of a Gentile) but to a proselyte from among the Jewish people to the Pharisaical way of life within the nation. And the thought behind a proselyte becoming twofold more a son of Gehenna than the scribes and Pharisees themselves lies in the fact that converts of this nature often become more dogmatic than their proselytizers.
The scribes and Pharisees themselves, insofar as sonship and the kingdom that had been offered to Israel were concerned, were themselves sons of Gehenna; but their proselytes were viewed in an even more condemnatory fashion in this respect. The Pharisees had misled them in relation to the proffered kingdom, as they had done the nation itself; and, apparently because of their dogmatism, proselytes found themselves in an even worse state than that of their Pharisaical proselytizers.
Gehenna was the place of refuse for the city of Jerusalem, located in a valley south of the city. “Sonship” in relationship to this place graphically pictured exactly where the scribes and Pharisees would lead a proselyte, or where they had led the nation of Israel, relative to the proffered kingdom. Sonship, which was supposed to have been realized in the kingdom, could now be realized only in relation to Gehenna.
Gehenna, located south of the city, was set on the opposite side of the city from the place God is seen in Scripture. God is always seen at a point north of the earth or of anything on the earth (Leviticus 1:11; Job 26:7; Psalm 75:6, 7). And, beyond that, Gehenna was a place of refuse in a valley rather than a place associated with God’s glory and a mountain (signifying a kingdom [cf. Isaiah 2:2-4; Daniel 2:34, 35, 44, 45]).
Thus, the expression, “sons of Gehenna,” could only picture one thing. It could only describe the state in which those who had been called to occupy positions in the kingdom would find themselves following their refusal. They, in relation to “sonship” (implying rulership), would find themselves in a placed of refuse, not only removed from the kingdom, the mountain, but in a valley as well. Gehenna was a place diametrically opposed to that which they could have had, the place to which they had been called (cf. Genesis 19:27, 30).
That’s where the fundamental religious leadership in Israel had led an entire nation, with the more liberal Sadducees at times being seen with them. And that is the exact same place where the fundamental or liberal leadership in Christendom today can be seen leading the people in a counterpart to that of Israel’s religious leadership at the time of Christ’s first coming.
Any attempt to ignore, to do away with, or to shut up the proclamation of the message surrounding the kingdom of the heavens to Christians today by Christendom’s religious leaders will meet with the same dire consequences as it did in Israel. The end result, insofar as sonship and the kingdom are concerned, can be seen only in a counterpart outside the heavenly Jerusalem to Gehenna outside the earthly Jerusalem — a place of refuse outside the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem, located on the south side of the city (cf. Revelation 22:14, 15).
(For a discussion of that which Gehenna points to in relation to the heavenly Jerusalem and Christians, see the author’s book, MYSTERIES OF THE KINGDOM, Chapter 12.)