Category Archives: Jesus Christ

Jesus’ Blood May Not be Precious for the Reasons You Think

On 9/16/15 I tweeted the following:

This came out of a discussion I had with a friend in which we reflected on a popular misunderstanding of Christ’s blood. As the tweet hit my Facebook account it engendered a bit of discussion, which was both expected and welcome. There are several reasons I think it’s wise to avoid affirming anything like magical properties in the blood of Jesus. There biblical reasons, linguistic reasons, and theological reasons.

Biblical reasons. I think we would agree that the death of Christ, and how it “works” in atoning for our sin, is patterned after the OT sacrificial system commanded by God. The quickest way to talk about this is to jump to Lev. 16, the Day of Atonement. There, starting in v. 11 we read, “Aaron shall present the bull as a sin offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house. He shall kill the bull as a sin offering for himself.” And again, from verses 15-19 we reading the longer explanation:

Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses. No one may be in the tent of meeting from the time he enters to make atonement in the Holy Place until he comes out and has made atonement for himself and for his house and for all the assembly of Israel. Then he shall go out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it, and shall take some of the blood of the bull and some of the blood of the goat, and put it on the horns of the altar all around. And he shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times, and cleanse it and consecrate it from the uncleannesses of the people of Israel.

I believe the point here, the point the priests would have understood, is this: The shedding of blood, apart from the actual death of the animal would not atone for sin. Applying the blood, sprinkling the blood, etc. was all to symbolically demonstrate that death had taken place. This is because of the sacrificial principle of substitution. The animal was killed in place of the worshipper who offered it, in their place. The worshipper deserves death, but through the sacrificial system God graciously provided a way in which fellowship with him could be maintained and the worshipper themselves not be destroyed.  If the blood was offered by wounding (but not killing) the animal, there would be no atonement. So the blood is by no means meaningless. The blood is proof of death.

Applying this to of Christ we find the same principle at play. If Jesus was merely wounded and shed tons of blood but didn’t die, then he would not be fulfilling the role of an OT sacrifice, and therefore atonement would not be complete.

Linguistic reasons. But I think there are linguistic reasons to support the first point I just made. I would say that speaking of the atonement in terms of the “blood” is what is called a metonymy. It’s a technical literary term for a concept we’re all familiar with, and the Bible itself employs. A metonymy is a figure of speech that

consists of the use of the name of one object or concept for that of another to which it is related, or of which it is a part, as “scepter” for “sovereignty,” or “the bottle” for “strong drink,” or “count heads (or noses)” for “count people.”

Further examples of this can be found in Isa. 22:22, 29:1 Matt. 16:19, and Luke 16:29. So speaking of the precious “blood” of Christ is the way the biblical writers refers to the sacrifice-onto-death of Jesus.  Of course, it’s a perfectly legitimate way of speaking, and I wouldn’t dare “censor” the Bible’s way of speaking.

Another really good example of this principle is found in Ezekiel 18:20, “The soul that sins shall die.” Obviously, the verse isn’t saying that if a soul (as opposed or distinct from a body) sins, only the soul will die. Here Ezekiel is using a metonymy, “soul” (a part of what makes up a person) is used to refer to the whole person. So the meaning is “The person who sins will die.”

Like I said, it’s a fairly common concept, and this should give you an idea of how I would read passages such as  Lev. 17:11 Ps. 72:14 John 6:53-54 Rev. 12:11.

Theological reasons. The last reason I said what I did basically takes the last two points and draws some theological conclusions. The problem is that if we say that Christ’s blood, the actual physical hemoglobin, had healing or spiritual power we are functional docetists,

Docetism is a subdivision of the ancient heresy of Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that the material world was bad, and the immaterial (“spiritual”) world was superior. In contrast, the Bible tells us when God created the physical world he repeatedly called it “good.” The docetists applied this principle to the incarnation and therefore denied that Jesus Christ (who is good) took on a real, material, fully human body (which, in their minds, would be bad). The Greek term dokéo means “to seem,” as in Jesus only seemed to possess a material body. And so while there aren’t many explicit docetists in the church today, many are functional docetists because of what they believe about Christ’s humanity.

Jesus’ body was fully human, and humans (even perfectly sinless humans) do not possess magic or supernatural blood. His blood was the blood of a normal human being. And so just as real, normal humans do not have special properties to their hemoglobin, neither did Jesus. In terms of its physical nature, his blood was no different than the blood of any other ancient Mediterranean Jewish male. That’s not to take away from the glory of the incarnation. Rather I say that to robustly affirm the incarnation. Jesus became a real human, not a superhuman.

I should probably also clarify something I said that would be misunderstood. I wrote, “There’s nothing ontologically special about Jesus’ blood.” The key word for me in writing that was “ontologically.” In technical terms people are confusing ethics with ontology (being or nature). The worth of Christ’s sacrifice was because he was morally perfect (“without spot or wrinkle”), not because of any physical characteristics of his humanity (such as his blood). If there were, he wouldn’t be truly human, and therefore an unfit substitute for fallen and sinful humans. I believe this is a category confusion, and one that endangers a robust biblical Christology.

The Bible is very clear that our fallenness is a moral/ethical problem (rebellion to our Creator), and not an ontological/metaphysical problem (some about our created nature/being). Therefore the solution to the problem is moral as well, not ontological (it’s Christ’s obedience that is valued, not his hemoglobin).

The “blood” of Jesus– as in the value, power, and efficacy of his death– is of infinite value.

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The Five Points of Christology

At Christmastime we celebrate the great gift from God: His word become flesh. When we speak this way we are talking about the incarnation (the in-flesh-ment of God). In order to better facilitate understanding,  I have summarized the doctrines of the incarnation and the hypostatic union (the teaching that Jesus is both full divine and fully and perfectly human) in terms of the acronym JESUS .

  1. John’s Prologue: Before his birth in Bethlehem, the man, Jesus of Nazareth, eternally existed as the Word of God, the second person of the Trinity – equal with God the Father in both power and glory. John 1:1-14
  2. Emptied: In the incarnation, the divine Word took on/assumed/added a human nature to his own divine nature without ceasing to be God. Phil. 2:5-7
  3. Somatic: The human nature taken on by the Son is fully human (subject to all natural human frailties such as fatigue, hunger, thirst, and ignorance), yet without the inward temptation, inclination, or desire to sin.
  4. Unified: Jesus Christ—the eternal Word incarnate—is a single, unified person mysteriously possessing two natures (both fully human and fully divine) in such a fashion that neither is compromised (whether through confusion, mixture, or separation).
  5. Savior: This union of natures is absolutely essential for the reconciliation between God and man, and for the consummation of God’s purposes for creation. The human nature of Jesus is essential for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom purposes through humanity, while the divine nature is essential because the radical and pervasive effects of sin upon creation made it impossible that any mere human could successfully overturn them.

The Significance of Christ’s Lordship

What are some implications of the Lord of Jesus Christ? Here Thomas R.Schreiner summarizes the work of another NT scholar, David Capes. I’ve itemized the list for easier viewing.

David Capes rightly summarizes the significance of Jesus’ lordship in six statements.

  • First, Jesus Christ was the object of devotion in creedal statements (Rom 1:3-4; 10:9-10).
  • Second, believers prayed for Christ’s return (1 Cor 16:22) and identified themselves “as those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:2).
  • Third, hymns focusing on the person and work of Christ were composed (Phil 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20).
  • Fourth, during worship early Christians gathered in Jesus’ name (1 Cor 5:4).
  • Fifth, new believers were baptized in Jesus’ name (Rom 6:3; Gal 3:27).
  • Sixth, early Christians celebrated a meal honoring Jesus, called the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:20).

Capes is correct, then, in concluding that Jesus’ lordship involved worship and that this necessarily implies that Paul and early Christians thought of Jesus “in the way that one thinks of God.” And yet God the Father is still distinct from Jesus, and Paul retains his belief in monotheism (1 Cor 8:6). Apparently, Paul did not believe honoring and worshiping Jesus as God compromised his monotheistic belief, but neither did he collapse God and Jesus together into a kind of modalism.”

—Thomas R. Schreiner. Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology, 168

Jesus: The Wisdom and Power of God for Salvation

Jesus is the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). In fact, according to the Apostle Paul, in Jesus are hidden “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). But how does this fact benefit us?

Jesus’ Life. Jesus is the fullest and final embodiment of one who “fears the Lord.” Christ’s thoughts, words, and actions were God-saturated. In his life is an example for his people. But unlike God’s sons Adam (Lk.3: 38), Israel (Ex. 4:22-23), David (Ps. 89:27), Solomon, (2 Sam. 7:14), and other Israelite kings (Ps. 2:12), Jesus is the perfectly obedient Son of God . He never sinned, and therefore is a substitute for the disobedience of the people of God.

Jesus-Matthew2 Jesus’ Death. There are two ways to live: According to the wisdom of God, or according to man’s wisdom. Each side views the other path as foolishness (cf. 1 Cor. 1). The path of wisdom leads to ultimate security and blessedness. The path of foolishness only ultimately leads to destruction (Prov. 14:12). As our substitute and champion, Jesus perfectly followed the path of righteousness, but suffered the fate of the foolish, so we fools could enjoy the rewards of righteousness (1 Cor. 5:21).

 Jesus’ sending of the Spirit. Wisdom is the internalization of God’s Law and Word to the degree that we know what to do in the circumstances that Scripture does not address directly. Wisdom is the empowerment of the spirit of the Law. This is only possible through the Spirit of the Law. What we need is the power of the Holy Spirit to have the mind of Christ (Rom. 8:3).

From Torah to Telos: Proclaiming Christ from the Ten Commandments

In his massive Doctrine of the Christian Life, John M. Frame helpfully highlights a number of ways the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) points us to the Jesus Christ as “the end of the law” (Cf. Rom. 10:4). This is something certainly worth reading meditatively.

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If all Scripture testifies of Christ (Luke 24:27; John 5:39), then the law of God surely cannot be an exception. As we study the law, then, we should examine its witness to Christ. I assume that some readers of this book are preparing for Christian ministry. They especially need to know how to use the Decalogue in their preaching and teaching. But all of us need to learn how to see Christ in the law.

The law bears witness to Christ in a number of ways, some of which I shall discuss in the following points.

1. The Decalogue presents the righteousness of Christ. Jesus perfectly obeyed God’s law. That is why he was the perfect lamb of God, why God imputes his active righteousness to us, and why he is the perfect example for the Christian life. He never put any god before his Father. He never worshiped idols or took God’s name in vain. Despite what the Pharisees said, he never violated the Sabbath command. So the Decalogue tells us what Jesus was like. It shows us his perfect character.

2. The Decalogue shows our need of Christ. God’s law convicts us of sin and drives us to Jesus. It shows us who we are, apart from Christ. We are idolaters, blasphemers, Sabbath breakers, and so on.

3. The Decalogue shows the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. In him we are holy. God sees us in Christ, as law keepers.

4. The Decalogue shows us how God wants us to give thanks for Christ. In the Decalogue, as we shall see below, obedience follows redemption. God tells his people that he has brought them out of Egypt. The law is not something they must keep to merit redemption. God has redeemed them. Keeping the law is the way they thank God for salvation freely given. So the Heidelberg Confession expounds the law under the category of gratefulness.

5. Christ is the substance of the law. This point is related to the first, but it is not quite the same. Here I wish to say that Jesus is not only a perfect law keeper, according to his humanity, but also the one we honor and worship, according to his deity, when we keep the law.

(a) The first commandment teaches us to worship Jesus as the one and only Lord, Savior, and mediator (Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5).

(b) In the second commandment, Jesus is the one perfect image of God (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3). Our devotion to him precludes worship of any other image.

(c) In the third commandment, Jesus is the name of God, that name to which every knee shall bow (Phil. 2:10–11; cf. Isa. 45:23).

(d) In the fourth commandment, Jesus is our Sabbath rest. In his presence, we cease our daily duties and hear his voice (Luke 10:38–42). He is Lord of the Sabbath as well (Matt. 12:8), who makes the Sabbath his own Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10).

(e) In the fifth commandment, we honor Jesus, who restores us to the divine family as he submits himself entirely to the will of the Father (John 5:19–24).

(f) In the sixth commandment, we honor him as our life (John 10:10; 14:6; Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:4), the Lord of life (Acts 3:15), the one who gave his life that we might live (Mark 10:45).

(g) In the seventh commandment, we honor him as our bridegroom, who gave himself to cleanse us, to make us his pure, spotless bride (Eph. 5:22–33). We love him as no other.

(h) In the eighth commandment, we honor Jesus as the source of our inheritance (Eph. 1:11), as the one who provides everything that his people need in this world and beyond.

(i) In the ninth commandment, we honor him as God’s truth (John 1:17; 14:6), in whom all the promises of God are Yes and Amen (2 Cor. 1:20).

(j) In the tenth commandment, we honor him as our complete sufficiency (2 Cor. 3:5; 12:9) to meet both our external needs and the renewed desires of our hearts. In him we can be content with what we have, thankful for his present and future gifts.

For other helpful works expounding a Christ-centered reading of the Ten Commandments, see:

 

Paul and the “Son of God”

In Paul in Fresh Perspective, N. T. Wright reflects on Paul’s ‘redefinition of God.’ There he says,

Paul’s thought can best be understood, not as an abandonment of  [a Jewish monotheistic] framework, but as a redefinition of it around the Messiah…All this and more is summed up for Paul in one of the titles for Jesus which, though he does not use it very often, comes with great force when he does. The phrase ‘son of God’ was known in Judaism as a reference to angels, but it is the two other uses which indicate where Paul sees its roots: Israel itself as ‘son of God’ (not least in Exodus 4.22), and the Messiah as ‘son of God’ in 2 Samuel 7.14 and Psalms 2.7 and 89.27. What Paul has done is to take this idea and fill it with new content, without losing the messianic meaning and the cognate of representing Israel. What has happened in, to and through Jesus has convinced Paul that hidden within the divinely intended meaning of Messiahship was God’s determination not just to send someone else to do what had to be done but to come himself to do it in person. Only so can we make sense of passages like Romans 5.6-11, where the death of Jesus (precisely as the son of God, as in 8.3 and 8.32) expresses more clearly and anything else the love of God. This can only be so if Jesus is understood as the very embodiment of the one God.

-N. T. Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspective, 84, 95

Two Aspects of Christ’s Redemptive Work

Here’s a short clip from my lecture last week on the book of Hebrews. Here I discuss a major theme in Hebrews 7-10: Jesus as both high priest and final sacrifice.

Let’s focus on this verse;

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25)

Let’s ask a few basic questions: First, what’s the subject matter of this verse? Second, what’s the ground for Christ’s successful redemptive work?  In brief, the answers are as follows: First, the verse speaks of redemption. Christ is able to save perfectly those to come to God through Him, “the way” (cf. Jn 14:6). Second, the verse also provides the reason why, or the instrumental cause, of His guaranteed success, namely his continual intercession for believers as priest. He saves perfectly “since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

Theological Inference. I find it very difficult, in light of this verse, to make sense of any understanding of Christ’s high priestly activity that states that Christ can mediate on behalf of someone who is ultimately lost in the final judgment. In continuity with the Old Covenant priests, Christ intercedes or mediates for all for whom a sacrifice is made. Yet, if all for whom Christ mediates are “saved to the uttermost,” then logical demands that Christ does not mediate for every single individual (cf. John 17:9). If He does, would this not, according to Hebrews 7:25, lead us to accept the doctrine of universalism?  Do we really want to say Christ’s intercession could fail to save? I for one don’t. Christ always pleases the Father (John 8:29).

Let’s look at this from a slightly different angle.  The argument of Hebrews as a whole is to demonstrate the superiority of Christ over the multitude of ways God spoke to his people in the Old Testament (cf. the “in former days” with the “but now” of Heb. 1:1). Jesus is greater than angels (who delivered the law), greater than Moses, provides a greater rest than Joshua, etc. How can we affirm that Christ is a better sacrifice and a better priest than those of the Old Covenant if he can present his perfect sacrifice before the Father in behalf of sinner X, yet sinner X is eternally lost? Such a conclusion would run against to the author’s argument. If his entire point is that Christ is not like the sacrifices of old, yet His sacrificial death and priestly mediation do not guarantee salvation for any one then Christ’s work is exactly like those offerings.

Clear and precise hermeneutics demand that we never interpret an author’s words in a particular passage so as to make it contradict his overall message. Instead, Jesus is the final sacrifice because his life cleanses those for whom it is made. He is the perfect high priest because his mediator secures the salvation of his people. Rather than demoting the work of Christ, the doctrine of particular redemption upholds, relishes, and adorns the complete saving power of Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and continued priestly work. He saves to the uttermost!

PS: My thanks to Matt Kenyon for providing and editing this clip. 

God is Lord; Jesus is Lord

Frame summarizes the confessions of faith of the Old and New Testaments:

Over and over [in the Old Testament], we are told that God performs his mighty deeds so that people “will know that I am the Lord” (Ex. 14: 4; cf. 6: 7; 7: 5, 17; 8: 22; 10: 2; 14: 18; 16: 6, 12; 29: 46; 31: 13; Deut. 4: 35; 29: 6; 1 Kings 8: 43, 60; 18: 37; 20: 13, 28; 2 Kings 19: 19; Ps. 83: 18; Isa. 37: 20; 2 Jer. 16: 21; 24: 7; Ezek. 6: 7, 10, 13, 14; 7: 4, 9, 27; 11: 10, etc.), or so that “my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Ex. 9: 16; Rom. 9: 17). We find “name” and “Lord” throughout the Scriptures, in contexts central to God’s nature, dignity, and relationship with his people. “Lord” is found in the New International Version of the Bible 7,484 times, mostly referring to God or to Christ.

The name Lord is as central to the message of the New Testament as it is to the Old Testament. Remarkably, in the New Testament the word kyrios, meaning “Lord,” which translates yahweh in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, is regularly applied to Jesus. If the Shema summarizes, in a way, the message of the Old Testament by teaching that Yahweh is Lord, so the confession “Jesus is Lord” (Rom. 10: 9; 1 Cor. 12: 3; Phil. 2: 11; cf. John 20: 28; Acts 2: 36) summarizes the message of the New Testament.

-John M. Frame, Doctrine of God

The Person of Christ: The Coalescence of Contrarieties

Jonathan Edwards taught:

In Jesus Christ…meet infinite highness and infinite condescension; infinite justice and infinite grace; infinite glory and lowest humility; infinite majesty and transcendent meekness; deepest reverence toward God and equality with God; worthiness of good and the greatest patience under the suffering of evil; a great spirit of obedience and supreme dominion over heaven and earth; absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation; self-sufficiency and an entire trust and reliance on God.

John Piper, The Pleasures of God

Jesus: Sum and Substance of the Old Testament

J. C. Ryle was a marvelous preacher and expositor of Scripture.  His words on John 1:43-51 are worth quoting at length:

Christ is the sum and substance of the Old Testament. To Him the earliest promises pointed in the days of Adam, and Enoch, and Noah, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. To Him every sacrifice pointed in the ceremonial worship appointed at Mount Sinai. Of Him every high priest was a type, and every part of the tabernacle was a shadow, and every judge and deliverer of Israel was a figure.

He was the prophet like unto Moses, whom the Lord God promised to send, and the King of the house of David, who came to be David’s Lord as well as son. He was the Son of the virgin, and the Lamb, foretold by Isaiah,—the righteous Branch mentioned by Jeremiah,—the true Shepherd, foreseen by Ezekiel,—the Messenger of the Covenant, promised by Malachi,—and the Messiah, who, according to Daniel, was to be cut off, though not for Himself.

The further we read in the volume of the Old Testament, the clearer do we find the testimony about Christ. The light which the inspired writers enjoyed in ancient days was, at best, but dim, compared to that of the Gospel. But the coming Person they all saw afar off, and on whom they all fixed their eyes, was one and the same. The Spirit, which was in them, testified of Christ. (1 Pet. 1:11.)

Do we stumble at this saying? Do we find it hard to see Christ in the Old Testament, because we do not see His name? Let us be sure that the fault is all our own. It is our spiritual vision which is to blame, and not the Book. The eyes of our understanding need to be enlightened. The veil has yet to be taken away.

Let us pray for a more humble, childlike, and teachable spirit, and let us take up ‘Moses and the prophets’ again. Christ is there, though our eyes may not yet have seen Him. May we never rest till we can subscribe to our Lord’s words about the Old Testament Scriptures, ‘They are they which testify of me.’ (John 5:39)”

–J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John, Vol. 1, 55-56.

(HT: Tolle Lege)

The Historical Jesus: Four Theses by Anthony Le Donne

I just stumbled upon a help short piece by Dr. Anthony Le Donne on four theses on the the historical Jesus. Below is simply a highlight of the points I found most interesting.

I. The Historical Jesus is not …

  • The untheological Jesus
  • A fifth gospel
  • A harmony of the Gospels
  • A conflation of the Gospels

II. The Historical Jesus is Faith Seeking Historical Understanding

  • The Gospels themselves claim to have a historical character and invite critical scrutiny (e.g., Luke 1.1-4).
  •  The “historical Jesus” is the narratives that emerges when the Evangelists invite sociologists, archaeologists, Talmudic scholars, and Graeco-Roman historians to work on seminar project about Jesus.
  • Study of the historical Jesus is a necessary question since sooner or later Christians are bound to ask, who is the kyrios [the Lord] how did he become ho stauromenos [the crucified]?

III. The Canonical Jesus is Faith seeking Narratival Understanding

  • The task of the Gospels is to narrate the gospel of Jesus as part of Israel’s history and religious literature and in light of the church’s witness to Jesus and worship of Jesus.

IV. Jesus: Historical and Canonical

  • The “Jesus” part of a New Testament Theology should have the following tasks: (1) To answer the question of “Who is Jesus?” in light of historic testimony; (2) to postulate how the historical Jesus impacted the formation of the Four Gospels; (3) To define the literary, rhetorical, social, and theological fabric of the Four Gospels in their own right; and (4) To summarize what the Four Gospels and their reception in the church have to say about Jesus as a whole.

As I said, these are only summaries. Most of these points are fleshed out in the article. The whole piece is worth reading. Le Donne is the author of The Historical Jesus: What Can We Know And How Can We Know It?

Resources for the Study of Jesus and the Gospels

Here’s a sampling of the literature I’ve worked through to prep for my Life and Teachings of Jesus course.

Coupled with the works I’ve researched on the interestamental/Second temple period, I thank God for the works listed above. Did I agree with every word of them? No, of course not. Have they stretched my grasp of Jesus embedded as he was/is within his biblical and historical backdrop? Yes. Have they challenge assumptions, forcing me to reevaluate the texts of Scripture in order to see what they were really saying? Absolutely. Have they helped me to love my Savior who loved me and gave himself for me (cf. Gal. 2:20)? You bet.

Reading Jesus’ Baptism in the light of the Old Testament

Many scholars have observed that the words from heaven during Jesus’ baptism are rooted in the Old Testament. This is Mark’s account:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:9-11 ESV)

Though these words have meaning on their own, they come alive when set in their Old Testament context. Briefly, Christopher J. H. Wright draws out their significance:

This is/you are my son:

This is an echo of Psalm 2:7 which was originally a Psalm about King David and then any king descended from him. He need not fear the posturings and antagonism of his enemies because it is God himself who has anointed him king and protects him. The declaration: “you are my son; today I have begotten you”, which was probably said at the coronation or enthronement of Davidic kings as God’s way of endorsing their legitimacy and authority. However, the fall of Jerusalem and exile in 587 BC was the end of the line for the Davidic kings. So this Psalm was given a future look and applied to the expected, messianic, son of David would reign when God would restore Israel. The heavenly voice at his baptism identified Jesus as that very one.

My loved one, in whom I delight [am well pleased]:

This is an echo of Isaiah 42:1 which is the opening verse of a series of ‘songs’ in Isaiah 40 – 55 about one called the servant of the Lord. He is introduced rather like a king, but as the song develops (42:1, 49:1-6, 50:4-10, 52:13-53:12) it becomes clear that this servant will accomplish his calling, not by kingly power as we know it, but through frustration, suffering, rejection and death. By willing to pay that cost, however, the servant will not only bring restoration to Israel, but also be the instrument of bringing God’s salvation to the ends of the earth.

My son, my beloved son:

 Many scholars find in this phrase a third echo from the Hebrew Bible, Genesis 22:2, where God told Abraham, “take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love”, and sacrifice him to the Lord. In the end, Isaac was spared, but Abraham was commended for his willingness to trust and obey God even to that ultimate end. This story, known in later Jewish lore as “the binding of Isaac”, was deeply studied and reflected on for double theme of Abraham’s  willingness as a father to sacrifice his son, and Isaac’s willingness as a son to be sacrificed.

Lastly, Wright highlights the meaning of this last phrase in light of Romans 8:32:

Paul probably had this story in mind when he wrote Romans 8:32, “he who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” And almost certainly it was in the mind of God the Father as he identifies Jesus at his baptism as his only Son whom he loved, but whom he was willing to sacrifice for the salvation of the world. Only this time it would be for real. There would be no ram to substitute at the last minute. -Chris Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, 106-107

For more, see:

What Did Paul Know about the ‘Historical’ Jesus?

Some have made the claim that the apostle Paul wasn’t interested in the ‘historical’ Jesus. As far as they are concerned, Paul was more interested in the ‘theological’ Christ of his redemptive narrative. Regularly referenced to support this claim are Paul’s own words in 2 Corinthians 5:16:

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.

This of course potentially is a huge blow for Christians who root their faith in real history. After all, part of the common Christian confession is (according to The Apostles’ Creed) Jesus the Messiah “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” That places the significance of Jesus’s life and ministry within a particular geographical and historical setting.

Read the rest of this entry

Messiahship in the Gospel of Mark

In his Are You the One Who is To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, Michael F. Bird brilliantly summarizes the theme of messiahship in the Gospel of Mark.

Mark’s story of Jesus essentially unpacks the designation “Jesus Christ” from the incipit (1:1) so as to show that the Messiah who Christians confess is made known as

  • The Son of God, who is beloved by the Father, commissioned for his messianic mission by reception of the Spirit, and exercising command over God’s enemies, be they demons or the armies of Rome.
  • The Son of Man, who is authorized to speak for God, appointed to suffer and rise from the dead, and destined to judge the inhabited world.
  • The Son of David, who heals the afflicted of Israel, is greater still than David himself and ushers in David’s coming kingdom.
  • The King of the Jews, who in an ironic twist, at the end of his triumph, is enthroned as the King of Israel on the cross and there reveals the true power of his kingship by refusing to save himself.

In one sense this is a fairly radical reinterpretation of messiahship, but in another sense it is also an apology [defense] for Jesus as the Messiah. The crucifixion is not thrust upon Jesus as a pure accident of unfortunate events; rather, he deliberately embraces it as part of a larger redemptive purpose. Mark’s Gospel is fundamentally an apology [defense] for a crucified Messiah, something that was pertinent theologically, sociologically, and culturally for Christians in the Greco-Roman world. In other words, Mark’s Jesus is not the Messiah despite the cross, but precisely because of it.

-Michael F. Bird, Are You the One Who is To Come? The Historical Jesus and the Messianic Question, 145. Emphasis added.