Results tagged “biblical theology” from Reformation21 Blog

Why We Love New Beginnings

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We all love new beginnings. When we enter a new year, most of us tend to think back on the past year--we look back at the accomplishments and failures and wonder if the forthcoming year will yield more progress and a better sense of achievement. When we make New Year's resolutions, we are reacting to regrets that we have had over the past year's activities and events. Usually, it is physical or financial failures with which we are most dismayed. It is not altogether wrong for us to have such regrets. There is something good about self-assessment and self-examination. But, more painful than admitting our lack of self-control in diet, exercise and spending is facing up to our lack of self-control and zeal in the realm of spiritual life and devotion.

We all feel the guilt and shame of our sin. We are dismayed by how little we gave ourselves to reading the Scriptures and to prayer. We know that we should have used our God-given gifts to build up His people in a much greater way than we did through the year. We recognize that we could have given more of our time and energy to care for those in our church and reach out with the Gospel to our  neighbors and co-workers. We admit that we could have opened our homes to those we don't know well in our church and to our neighbors more than we did for the sake of the Gospel. We are frustrated that we repeatedly gave into particular sins, scarred our consciences, and grieved the Holy Spirit by whom we were sealed. All of this remorse weighs heavily on our hearts--and it is right that it does. But is there no hope of restoration and renewal for us as we enter into a New Year? There is hope for us--and more than we could ever imagine--in the Gospel.

As we search the Scriptures we find the glorious truth that Jesus made us part of His new creation through His death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:14). When Christ stepped out of the tomb, He did so as the first-fruits of the New Creation. His bodily resurrection guaranteed the spiritual (John 5:25) and bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20-22) of all those united to Him--and secured the ultimate restoration of all things at the end of time (Acts 3:21; 2 Peter 3:12-13). In His resurrection from the dead, Jesus redeemed our calendars. He forgave us all of our sin. He gave us power to die to self and live to righteousness this year and all the years of our lives.

In this sense, every day is New Year's Day for the believer. All of this is unfolded for us in marvelous typological detail in the record of the Passover and the Exodus. God not only redeemed Israel from the bondage of Egypt--He realigned their calendar at the Exodus (Exodus 12:1) to give them an anticipation of the new creation that He would bring about through the  death of His Son--the true and greater Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:5).

It's important for us to realize that the institution of the Passover occurred between the 9th  and the 10th plagues. God differentiated between His church and the world. He kept His plagues from falling on His people (Exodus 9:4; 11:7). However, when God pronounced the 10th and most severe plague, He did not differentiate between the church and the world. Members of the Old Covenant church were, thereby, shown that they deserved judgment as much as the Egyptians. We all deserve judgment for our sin and rebellion against God. Our failures are not merely imperfections in our goals or character. They are acts of rebellion against the infinitely holy God who made us. In the tenth plague, God taught Israel that all men--Jew and Gentile--deserve judgment. Phil Ryken explains this so well when he writes:

The Israelites must have been shocked to discover that their lives were in danger. All the previous plagues had left them unscathed because God had made a distinction between his people and Pharaoh's people. While chaos engulfed their oppressors, the Israelites had watched from the safety of Goshen. From this they learned that they were God's special people. This may have tempted them to believe that they were more righteous than the Egyptians, indeed, that they could do no wrong. But the truth was that they deserved to die every bit as much as their enemies. Indeed, if God had not provided a means for their salvation, they would have suffered the loss of every last one of their firstborn sons. The Israelites were as guilty as the Egyptians, and in the final plague God taught them about their sin and his salvation.1

The only thing that would make a difference for Israel was the blood of a lamb sprinkled on the doorposts of their homes. Every Israelite who acted in faith according to God's promise and put the blood on the doorpost was delivered from the judgment of the destroyer, and their first-born sons were spared. This was, of course, because God's judgment fell on the substitutionary Passover Lamb. In this way, God was pointing His people to the Person and work of Christ.

The Passover Lamb was given to God's people as an annual reminder of the need that they had to feed on the Lamb by which they were redeemed. All of the instructions about the observance of the feast were given to reflect something of the redemption that we have in Christ. He was roasted under the fire of God's wrath. He commands us to feed upon His flesh and blood by faith. He is a sufficient meal for the souls of His people. Even the relationship between the substitutionary lamb and the 10th  plague were not incidental. The first-born sons were spared on account of the blood of the Passover Lamb because God would not spare His own first-born--Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 5:5; Romans 8:32).

All of this was prefaced in the institution of the Passover when God said, "This month shall be  your beginning of months; it shall be  the first month of the year to you." The redemption that Israel experienced in the blood of the typological Lamb turned the clocks back to the first day of the first month of the first year. It was as if God was taking everything back to creation again. He was taking His people back to the time before there was sin--and was pointing them forward to the day when He would fully and finally make everything new. In the redemption that we have in Christ we have experienced new creation in our souls. In His death on the cross and in His resurrection, Jesus was the true Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:5) and brought about the greater Exodus (Exodus 9:31).

The true Exodus is experienced in its full import through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. This truth is applicable to the daily lives of believers in the New Covenant. For example, in Colossians 2:20-3:4, the Apostle Paul tells us that we have died with Christ, been raised with Him and that our lives are now hidden with Him in God (Col. 3:1-4). In light of that truth we do not turn to rigid asceticism for godliness (2:20-23); rather, we recognize that we have been made new creatures by virtue of our union with Christ in His death and resurrection. We are then told that we are to put off the old and put on the new (Col. 3:5-17). So much of our Christian life, and the power we long for, comes from knowing our position in Christ, namely, that He has made us to be spiritually resurrected beings--part of the new creation.

Many of us see the New Year as an opportunity to do better. We long for a fresh start. Often, this results in wishful or sentimental "New Year's resolutions." At the core of our being, we do not need New Year's resolutions--we need a "New Years Theology;" we need a theology of new creation. We need to know that we have been made new creatures if we are to live in newness of life for Christ. More than anything else in this year ahead, we continually need to hear the voice of the One who cried out, "Behold, I make all things new." May God grant us the grace to live as those who have been made new creatures and have had our calendars redeemed by the One who lived and died and rose again for us.


1. Philip Graham Ryken Exodus: Saved For God's Glory (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2005) p. 326.

*This is an adaptation of a post that originally appeared on the Christward Collective.

A Better Jerusalem

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On October 27, 1994, President Bill Clinton, while addressing the Knesset (i.e. the legislative assembly in Israel) cited one of his former pastors when he said, "If you abandon Israel, God will never forgive you...it is God's will that Israel, the biblical home of the people of Israel, continue forever and ever." This widely held sentiment has had a substantial impact on American politics and foreign policy over the past 70 years. Two days ago, President Trump made the controversial decision to declare Jerusalem to be the capitol of the state of Israel. This has reopened numerous questions about the place of the state of Israel, and the city of Jerusalem, in the consummate purposes and plan of God.

When Jesus began his Messianic ministry, he did so by calling 12 Apostles. The calling of the Twelve mirrored the formation of the 12 Tribes of Israel. In short, Jesus came to reconstitute Israel in Himself. He is the true son of Abraham in whom all the promises of God are "yes" and "Amen" (2 Cor. 1.20). In The Israel of God, O. Palmer Robertson emphasized the significance of the choosing and ministry of the 12 apostles when he wrote:

"The beginning of Jesus' ministry indicates the ongoing role of Israel in the kingdom of the Messiah. The designation of exactly twelve disciples shows that Jesus intends to reconstitute the Israel of God through his ministry. He is not, as some suppose, replacing Israel with the church. He is reconstituting Israel in a way that makes it suitable for the ministry of the New Covenant.

From this point on, it is not that the church takes the place of Israel, but that a new Israel of God is being formed by the shaping of the church. This kingdom will reach beyond the limits of the Israel of the old covenant. Although Jesus begins with the Israel of old, he will not allow his kingdom to be limited by its borders" (The Israel of God, p.118).

Phil Ryken also explains that Jesus chose the twelve Apostles to be the foundation of New Israel:

"By ordaining these twelve men, God was establishing a new Israel. Just as the twelve sons of Jacob founded the Old Testament people of God, so also the apostles established the foundation for God's new people in Christ. To this day, the church rests upon their ministry. We are 'built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets' (Eph. 2:20). And since a building can have only one foundation, their ministry is non-repeatable" (Luke, vol. 1, p. 256).

This is no small observation. When Jesus told the members of Old Covenant Israel that "the kingdom will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruit of it" (Matt. 21:43), we are meant to ask the question, "To what nation did God give His kingdom to in the New Covenant?" The only answer that can be supplied is that He has established His kingdom (i.e. His redemptive reign and rule) in the lives of His people--the true Israel who He has raised up in Christ.

We are still left with the question as to whether there is any divinely-intended role for the land of Israel in general and for the city of Jerusalem in specific. In his book, Understanding the Land in the Bible, Robertson distills the meaning of the land down to its essential redemptive-historical significance when he writes, "This land was made for Jesus Christ. All its diversity was designed to serve him. Its character as a land bridge  for three continents was crafted at Creation for his strategic role in the history of humanity." The land of Israel was strategically located between three continents. It served, therefore, as the perfect land bridge for the evangelistic mission of God to the nations. The land served its purpose when the Redeemer came to Israel to accomplish all that was typified and foreshadowed in the Old Testament.

All of this was God's original intention when He called Abraham. The Lord told Abraham that he would be "the father of a multitude of nations" (Gen. 17:4-5). The land of Israel was a downpayment of the eternal inheritance that God promised to Abraham. When Christ came, he fulfilled the promises made to Abraham. Jesus is "the heir of all things" (Heb. 1:2). Everyone who believes in him--as Abraham did (John 8:58)--becomes the heir of all things in union with Christ. 

The Apostle Paul understood that the original promise to Abraham was much larger than simply the inheritance of the land of Israel. In Romans 4:13, he wrote, "The promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith." During his lifetime, Abraham only came to possess a burial place in the land--the place from which he (buried there in hope of the resurrection) will one day rise to inherit the earth. This is also true of all those who are trusting in the son of Abraham, Jesus Christ, and in his finished work of redemption.

As far as the city of Jerusalem is concerned, it's important to recognize that God set apart this city to be the place of the Temple and the king's house. It was the capitol of the theocratic nation of Israel in the Old Testament. It should not, therefore, come as a surprise to us to see that Jesus' ministry ended in Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been established by God to be the focal point of the whole earth during the Old Covenant era. Jesus was crucified there (i.e. he was lifted up there) because he is the great King to whom all worship is to be directed. As Robertson observes:

"The lifting up of the Son of God could occur only in Jerusalem. No other place, no other city could substitute. To the covenant people of God he must come, and by the covenant people of God he must be rejected. Only then could the purposes and plans of God as revealed through all the ages be realized" (Understanding the Land, pp. 121-122)  

As the earthly ministry of Jesus came to a close in Jerusalem, so the ministry of his Apostles began in Jerusalem. From there it broke out from there into the whole world to show that the reign of God was now the reign of the resurrected Christ in the heavenly Jerusalem. From the rejection of Christ onward, the earthly Jerusalem became a symbol of fleshly, earthly, man-centered religion. The destruction of the Temple in A.D 70 marked the end of the Old Covenant era and the fact that the spiritual, heavenly reign of Christ had commenced throughout the earth. Robertson goes on to contrast the present Jerusalem (Gal. 4:25) with the heavenly Jerusalem--a contrast that the Apostle's make in Gal. 4:23-26 and Heb. 12:18-24--when he notes:

"To know the new way of living with God, a person must look to the 'Jerusalem above,' where the resurrected Christ reigns over the heavenly and earthly powers. For the present, earthly Jerusalem known to men continues to be in bondage to men (Gal. 4:25). The power flowing from the heavenly Jerusalem and its reigning, resurrected King was displayed openly at Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus'  last Passover meal. The disciples had been told to remain at this same earthly Jerusalem until they received the promise of the Father. It was in the temple area...that visible, audible manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit came on the assembled disciples.

These first twelve recipients of the Spirit of the new era of redemption instantly became the vehicles for transporting the new life that had its source in the heavenly Jerusalem. The new Israel of God was born in a day, and soon the worldwide kingdom of the cosmic Christ began to spread into the vast regions occupied by men of all nations. While the Jerusalem of this earth continues in bondage to the corrupting pride of man's sense of personal accomplishment, the Jerusalem above gives birth to men newly freed" (Understanding the Land, pp. 124-125). 

Robertson summarizes his thoughts on the city of Jerusalem when he says:

"Like all Old Covenant shadows, glorious prospects [i.e. those restoration prophecies in the OT prophets] have been realized in the days of the New Covenant, when people worship neither in Jerusalem nor in Samaria, but wherever in the world the Spirit of God manifests himself (John 4:21-24). The redemptive reality that the Old Covenant city could only foreshadow finds its consummate realization in the "Jerusalem above," which is "the mother of us all" (Gal. 4:26). The "Jerusalem above" is not merely a "spiritual" phenomenon that had no connection with the "real" world in which we live. Its reality injects itself constantly into the lives of God's people" (Israel of God, p. 17).

While recent developments concerning the city of Jerusalem has given us reason to revisit this subject--it would do us good to be settled in our minds about the fact that all who are united to Jesus by faith have been made children of Abraham and heirs of God (Gal. 3:29). Believers are the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem (Phil. 3:20). This is the only Jerusalem that ultimately matters. As John Newton put it, "Solid joys and lasting treasures, none but Zion's children know."

 

Christ in Flesh and Spirit

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Over the past 150 years or so, there has been a biblical theological development in our understanding of Paul's use of the σαρκ/πνεύμα (i.e. flesh/Spirit) distinction--specifically in relation to the Person and work of Christ. The most significant passage in this regard is Romans 1:3-4. The "ontological view," represented by Calvin, Hodge, Cranfield et al, held that Paul was merely referring to the two natures of Jesus when he wrote that Christ was "the seed of David according to the flesh" and "declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of Holiness through the resurrection of the dead." The "redemptive-historical view," represented by Warfield, Vos, Murray, Skilton, Gaffin and Ridderbos, understood Paul to be referring to two sequential stages of experience in existence--one according to the flesh (i.e. according to the old age) and the other according to the Spirit (i.e. according to the new era of the Spirit). 

In his essay, "The Christ that Paul Preached," B.B. Warfield* set out the "ontological view" of the passage when he wrote:

If we reduce what he tells us to its lowest terms it amounts just to this: Paul preached the historical Christ as the promised Messiah and as the very Son of God. But he declares Christ to be the promised Messiah and the very Son of God in language so pregnant, so packed with implications, as to carry us into the heart of the great problem of the two-natured person of Christ. The exact terms in which he describes Christ as the promised Messiah and the very Son of God are these: "Who became of the seed of David according to the flesh, who was marked out as the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead." This in brief is the account which Paul gives of the historical Christ whom he preached.

In his defense of the "ontological" view, Warfield stressed the truth about the two natures united together in the one Person of our Lord Jesus Christ. While this was representative of the way in which most older theologians read the passage, Warfield also saw a "redemptive-historical" shift in the juxtaposition of the language used in vv. 3 and 4. He went on to explain that he saw something of a redemptive-historical teaching in the passage as well:

Of course there is a temporal succession suggested in the declarations of the two clauses. They so far give us not only a description of the historical Christ, but the life-history of the Christ that Paul preached. Jesus Christ became of the seed of David at His birth and by His birth. He was marked out as the Son of God in power only at His resurrection and by His resurrection. But it was not to indicate this temporal succession that Paul sets the two declarations side by side. It emerges merely as the incidental, or we may say even the accidental, result of their collocation. The relation in which Paul sets the two declarations to one another is a logical rather than a temporal one: it is the relation of climax. His purpose is to exalt Jesus Christ. He wishes to say the great things about Him. And the two greatest things he has to say about Him in His historical manifestation are these - that He became of the seed of David according to the flesh, that He was marked out as the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead.1

Geerhardus Vos explained the "redemptive-historical view" when he wrote:

...As to the one He was "from the seed of David," as to the other He was "out of resurrection from the dead." The resurrection (both of Jesus and believers) is therefore--according to Paul--the entering upon a new phase of sonship characterized by the possession and exercise of unique supernatural power. That this should apply to Christ's body alone, or to the exertion by Chris of somatic power on the bodies of believers alone, while not here expressly denied, is in itself highly implausible. The above interpretation does not, of course, imply that Paul denied the supernatural conception of Jesus by the Spirit. Precisely because speaking of the pneuma-state in the absolute eschatological sense, he could disregard here the previous Spirit-birth and the Spirit-endowment at the baptism.2

Following Vos' exegesis, the late John Murray also held that Romans 1:3-4 was teaching two progressive stages in the redemptive-historical experience of Jesus. He helpfully explained what the shift in the two stages of experience meant for Jesus--and for believers in union with Christ--when he wrote:

Just as "according to the flesh" in verse 3 defines the phase which came to be through being born of the seed of David, so "according to the Spirit of holiness" characterizes the phase which came to be through the resurrection...

...The only conclusion is that Christ is now by reason of the resurrection so endowed with and in control of the Holy Spirit that, without any confusion of the distinct persons, Christ is identified with the Spirit and is called "the Lord of the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). Thus, when we come back to the expression "according to the Spirit of holiness", our inference is that it refers to that stage of pneumatic endowment upon which Jesus entered through his resurrection. The text, furthermore, expressly relates "Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness" with "the resurrection from the dead" and the appointment can be none other than that which came to be by the resurrection. The thought of verse 4 would then be that the lordship in which he was instated by the resurrection is one all-pervasively conditioned by pneumatic powers. The relative weakness of his pre-resurrection state, reflected on in verse 3, is contrasted with the triumphant power exhibited in his post-resurrection lordship. What is contrasted is not a phase in which Jesus is not the Son of God and another in which he is. He is the incarnate Son of God in both states, humiliation and exaltation, and to regard him as the Son of God in both states belongs to the essence of Paul's gospel as the gospel of God. But the pre-resurrection and post-resurrection states are compared and contrasted, and the contrast hinges on the investiture with power by which the latter is characterized.3

John Skilton, in his outstanding 1996 WTJ article "A Glance At Some Old Problems in First Peter," appealed to the importance of adopting the redemptive-historical view of Romans 1:3-4 and arriving at a similar conclusion on the difficult exegesis of 1 Peter 3:18-20:

Readers of the NT have been puzzled at times by statements that seem to indicate that our Lord has become something that he already had been before. For example, in Matt 28:18, Jesus says: "All power has been given unto me in heaven and on earth." The reader asks, "Did he not have all power previously?" In Acts 2:36, Peter says: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made that same Jesus whom you have crucified both Lord and Christ." One inquires, "Was not Jesus both Lord and Christ already?" Other verses raise similar questions. The answer to these questions will be found in a right understanding of 1 Pet 3:18. At the close of that verse Peter writes: θανατωθεὶς μὲν σαρκὶ ζῳοποιηθεὶς δὲ πνεύματι....Flesh and spirit represent two spheres 
of existence or two successive conditions of Christ's human nature... 

 ...Marked off in 1 Pet 3:18, as in Rom 1:3-4, would be two successive stages in our Lord's messianic work. These different stages are reflected also in such verses as Matt 28:18 and Acts 2:36...The second stage, introduced by the resurrection, was "one all-pervasively conditioned by pneumatic powers." The πνεύματι in 1 Pet 3:18 accordingly refers not only to the resurrection, but also to the state of power that followed it.4

While the "ontological view" falls entirely within the realm of the analogy of Scripture and analogy of faith, it does not do full justice to the exegetical construct of Romans 1:3-4. Much more satisfying is the explanation provided by Warfield, Vos, Murray, Skilton, Gaffin and Ridderbos. Understanding the σαρκ/πνεύμα (i.e. flesh/Spirit) distinction in redemptive history helps us understand more of what we have as believers living in the new age (i.e. the age of the Spirit) waiting for the consummation of that age when Christ comes in His glory.   

1. B. B. Warfield, "The Christ that Paul Preached," in The Person and Work of Christ (ed. Samuel G. Craig; Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1950), 73-90. 

2. Geerhards Vos The Pauline Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1961) n. 10 pp. 155-156. For a continued treatment of this passage see Vos' chapter, "The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Concept of the Spirit" in the Princeton Seminary Biblical and Theological Studies p. 228ff. 

3. John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) 6. 


The Climactic Word - Transfigured Hermeneutics 6

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This is the sixth of a ten part treatment of the significance of the Transfiguration for Christian theology and biblical reflection. I am currently exploring the way in which the Transfiguration draws upon associations with the events of the Exodus and Mount Sinai and upon broader Old Testament themes.

At Sinai, the Law of God was given to Israel on tablets of stone. At the Transfiguration, God declares that Jesus is his Son and his Word to the world: 'This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!' Jesus is God's climactic word, the Word that all of the other words anticipated. Although Jesus' identity as God's Son and Word given to the world is the fundamental implication of the gospels and the New Testament in their entirety, it is here, at the Transfiguration, that God's gift of his Son as his revelation to the world is declared in a direct and unmediated word from God himself.

Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, both persons who had spectacular yet fleeting visions of God's glory at Mount Sinai and both persons who had experienced a form of transfiguration by the Glory of God themselves (Moses' shining face and Elijah's ascent in the divine throne chariot in 2 Kings 2). Moses was the one through whom God gave the Law; Elijah was the one through whom God established a remnant prophetic movement. Between them they are the two greatest OT witnesses: some have seen Moses as representing the Law, and Elijah the prophets. They stand for all of the revelation that had come beforehand, revelation that witnesses to and is exceeded by God's gift of his Son.

Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus concerning what he is about to fulfil. Jesus' superiority to them is apparent, especially as they are removed from the scene and God testifies to his Son. Even the most important prophets and mediators of revelation in the Old Testament are surpassed by Jesus.

The words of God's declaration concerning his Son in verse 35 resonate deeply within the world of the Old Testament. Richard Hays observes the presence of Genesis 22 and Isaiah 42:1--'Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights'--in the background of God's declaration at Jesus' Baptism. The Isaiah echo is more prominent in Luke 9, where it is 'amplified into a more explicit allusion' as Jesus is referred to as the 'chosen one'.[1] This designation as the Isaianic Servant presents Jesus as the True Israel, and as God's faithful covenant partner.

In contrast to the divine voice at Jesus' Baptism, the voice here is directed to the disciples, not to Jesus himself. The disciples are instructed to 'hear' Jesus, a probable allusion to Deuteronomy 18:15-19. The promised Prophet like Moses is one that the people must 'hear' (cf. Acts 3:22). Jesus is the One for whom Elijah was preparing the way and he is the great Prophet like Moses that was foretold. His word comes with a glorious finality in the history of redemption, the revelation that will not be surpassed. 'God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son ... the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person' (Heb. 1:1-2).

In Malachi 4:4-6, the final verses of the Old Testament prophets, the coming Day of the LORD is announced and the people are told to remember the 'Law of Moses,' God's servant. It is also promised that 'Elijah' will appear 'before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.' This prophecy is prominent in the context of the Transfiguration account, where Matthew's account records Jesus referring the prophecy concerning Elijah to John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13). As Moses and Elijah are the great witnesses and the ones who will prepare the way for the climactic coming of the LORD himself, their appearance with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration is very fitting.

Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus about his departure--literally his 'Exodus'--that he was about to 'fulfil' in Jerusalem. The use of such a resonant term at this juncture is worthy of attention: Moses and Elijah are not merely referring to Jesus' coming death as an event about to befall him, but to his purposeful and powerful outworking of a new Exodus, in which all previous and anticipatory 'exoduses' will be fulfilled and all the promises of God realized. Jesus' departure--his 'Exodus'--is more than merely his death: it is also his resurrection, ascension, and his deliverance of a great multitude of captives. By his death and resurrection Christ tears open the sea of Death and Hell, allowing all of his people to pass through unscathed, while drowning all of their pursuers behind them.

The literary purpose of the overarching Exodus motif in this passage in Luke, to which I drew attention earlier, should become more apparent now. Luke's use of a mini-exodus pattern in this passage is akin to the composer of the film score who allows the hero's theme to surface in the background, readying the audience for its full expression as the hero achieves his magnificent victory. Luke wants our minds to be on Exodus, so we will understand both what is taking place on the mountain and what Jesus is about to go to Jerusalem to achieve. Jesus' Exodus will be the culmination of redemptive history, the decisive, definitive, and dreadful statement of fundamental themes that had been hitherto only quietly, yet pervasively, intimated.

Within the next post, I will discuss the relationship between the Transfiguration and the parousia.

Notes:

[1] Richard Hays, Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014) p. 60.

The High Priest and the New Temple: Transfigured Hermeneutics 5

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This is the fifth of a multipart discussion of the importance of the event of the Transfiguration for Christian theology and biblical reflection. I have argued for illuminating parallels between the events of Sinai and that of the Transfiguration. My previous two posts explored the gospels' presentation of Christ as God's glory theophany. Within this post I will turn to the themes of priesthood and sanctuary, which the gospel accounts of the Transfiguration also share with the events of Sinai recorded in Exodus.

If Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan was, as Peter Leithart has argued, an initiation into priesthood, his Transfiguration declares his great high priesthood as the Son over God's house:
Other details of the transfiguration have priestly connotations: The event occurs on the "eighth day," which was the beginning of Aaron's ministry (Lev. 9:1; Luke 9:28); Jesus' clothing is transformed into garments of flashing glory like those worn by the High Priest (Luke 9:29); glory surrounds Jesus (Luke 9:31, 32); Peter wants to build "tabernacles" (Luke 9:33); and Moses and Elijah disappear after a cloud overshadows the mountain (Luke 9:34; cf. Exod. 40:34-38). Shortly after, Jesus begins His march to Jerusalem, where He will cleanse the temple, begin to teach, and eventually offer His once-for-all sacrifice (Luke 9:51; cf. v. 31). The transfiguration publishes the truth of the baptism: Jesus has been, and will be, glorified as High Priest over the house.[1]
In light of Jesus' revelation as the great and glorious High Priest, the sacrificial character of his death becomes more apparent. As Jesus sets his face towards his death in Jerusalem, he unveils himself as the archetypal High Priest and Son over the heavenly sanctuary. Jesus is not overtaken by events nor cornered by the political machinations and conspiracies of his enemies: he goes to the cross with the power and determination of the heavenly High Priest who will accomplish his sacrifice.

In Matthew's account of the Transfiguration, temple-building themes are present in the near vicinity. In 16:17-19, in response to Peter's confession, Christ declares that he will build his Church--his assembly--upon the rock of Peter. As Leithart observes, there is a mixture of imagery here. The architectural language of building would suggest Temple-construction, as would the context, where Peter has just identified Jesus as the Christ, the figure who would establish the true Temple. However, the specific term used for the Church is not the term for a building, but for a human assembly, an assembly that can carry military connotations (connotations that are live in Matthew 16, where conflict with the gates of Hades is prominent). This fusion of imagery is suggestive: the 'building' of the new Temple is not a physical building made with hands, but an assembly of people that God would indwell.

These themes of building resurface in a surprising way within the narrative of the Transfiguration, where Peter suggests that they build three tabernacles, one for Jesus, one for Elijah, and one for Moses. Peter's proposal, especially as it features within Luke's gospel--where it is uttered as Elijah and Moses where parting from Jesus--seems to be an attempt to get them to stay.

Many commentators have seen in the word 'tabernacles' a possible allusion to the Exodus Tabernacle or, alternatively, to the Feast of Tabernacles (a feast commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, Leviticus 23:39-43). Whether this is reading too much into the term or not, God takes Peter's mundane proposal and responds in a manner charged with theological meaning, implying that Peter unwittingly said more than he knew (v.33b).

We should recognize the cloud that descends as the Glory cloud--the Shekinah--that came upon Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:16), the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38), and the Temple (1 Kings 8:10-13). Peter had suggested that they build 'tabernacles', so that they might continue to enjoy the presence of Moses and Elijah. God's responds by removing Elijah and Moses, but causing the Shekinah to descend upon Jesus and his disciples. Peter's desire that Moses and Elijah tarry with them in temporary 'tabernacles' is answered by God's enacted declaration that Jesus is the Tabernacle of his personal dwelling, the glorious Son who must eclipse all lesser reflective lights.

Peter believed that it would be good to delay the departure of Moses and Elijah. However, Moses and Elijah must decrease so that Christ can increase. They are witnesses that must step back when the One they foretold arrives. The Law and the Prophets are passing and temporary: Christ is lasting and permanent. Peter and the disciples would be called to build something. However, it wouldn't be a temporary tabernacle, but an eternally enduring Temple.

Just as God gave Moses the plans for the Tabernacle on Mount Sinai in Exodus and revealed the plans for a new prophetic temple to Ezekiel on a high mountain in Ezekiel 40, so God reveals his new Temple on the mount of Transfiguration. The Temple is Christ himself, in whom all of the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, and the assembly of his people. Peter, James, and John are fellow cornerstones of the new Temple, with Christ himself the chief. Christ is both the glorious High Priest and the new Temple.

Within my next post, I will conclude my discussion of the parallels between the Transfiguration and the events of Sinai.

Notes:

[1] Peter Leithart, The Priesthood of the Plebs: A Theology of Baptism (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2003), p. 119-120

This is the fourth part of a multipart discussion of the importance of the event of the Transfiguration for Christian theology and biblical reflection. In my first three posts, I argued for the significance accorded to the Transfiguration by its location within the narrative structure of the gospel, I explored the manner in which it is cast in relation with the events of Sinai, and I argued that it implicitly presents Christ as the divine glory theophany that was partially witnessed in the old covenant. Within this post I will turn to the gospel of John which, despite not recording the event of the Transfiguration, manifests a robust appreciation of Jesus as divine glory theophany.

John 1:14-18 is another instance where the Exodus theophany to Moses on the mountain is alluded to within the gospels. Jesus is the glorious only begotten of the Father, 'full of grace and truth,' the Word that has become flesh and 'tabernacled' among us. God's presence in the world in Jesus Christ is comparable to his presence in the midst of his people in the Sinai tabernacle. In verse 32 of the chapter, John the Baptist bears witness to the Spirit descending and remaining upon Jesus, much as the Glory cloud descended and remained upon Sinai and the tabernacle (cf. Exodus 33:9; 34:5).

Within the biblical resonance chamber provided by the Exodus theophany to Moses, John identifies Jesus as the Glory-face of God. No one has seen God at any time (v.18, cf. Exodus 33:20), yet in Jesus Christ we behold the glory of God. While Moses saw the 'back' of God's glory presence, the Son is in the very 'bosom' of the Father. The Word made flesh is 'full of grace and truth' (v.14b), an expression deeply redolent of Exodus 34:6, where God describes himself as 'abounding in goodness and truth.' By such literary parallels, John reveals that the Glory-face of God is made known in Jesus Christ.

Moses, having witnessed the Glory-presence of God, was the mediator through whom the Law was delivered. Moses and the Law gave testimony to this glory, but neither of them were this glory. While the Law came through Moses, 'grace and truth'--the very theophanic presence of God--comes through Jesus Christ. Moses and the Law testified to the glory of God: Christ is that glory. In seeing Christ, we become like Moses, witnessing the very glory of God.

The claim in John 1:18--'no one has seen God at any time'--is a statement that needs to be qualified (cf. Exodus 24:10-11, which explicitly says that Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel 'saw' the God of Israel). Exodus 33:20 helps us to clear up what might be meant here. No one can see God's 'face' and live, while Moses could see God's back. Ezekiel saw the figure of a 'likeness with the appearance of a man' (the accumulation of phenomenological terms is important here, serving as linguistic veils at points beyond which direct expression dare not tread) in Ezekiel 1:26-28. However, while the body is described both above and below the waist, no description of the face is given. Moses saw the pre-existent Son, but not as we see him. The face is the focal point of the person's identity--their countenance. By contrast with the theophanies of the OT, Jesus' face is central at the Transfiguration (this is also the case in Revelation 1, which shares with Matthew 17:2 the description of Jesus' face shining like the sun in its glory). In Jesus, God's face is finally seen.

This theme of Jesus as the Glory-face of God, the ultimate theophanic revelation, continues throughout the gospel of John. 1:14-18 and presents Jesus as the glorious revelation of God that Moses witnessed upon Mount Sinai. In 1:32-34, John the Baptist has a theophanic revelation of Jesus' identity as the Spirit descends and remains upon him. In 1:51, Jesus presents himself as Jacob's Ladder (cf. Genesis 28:12), the connection between heaven and earth. Perhaps we can see a progression here: the first theophany is of the descending Word; the second theophany is of the descending Spirit upon the descended Word; the third theophany is of the angels of God ascending and descending upon the descended Word upon whom the Spirit rests. In Jesus Christ, heaven is taking up residence on earth.

John's implicit identification of Christ as both the agent and glorious fulfilment of the great theophanies of the history of Israel establishes Christ's pre-existence and discloses the deep unity of covenant history. The glory that Jesus will be raised to is the glory that he enjoyed with the Father before the world was (17:5), the eschatological glory anticipated by the patriarch (8:58), the theophanic Glory-face of the Lord witnessed by the prophets (12:41). Christ is not a new actor in Israel's history, but the once veiled One who has been active all the time and has now, in the fullness of time, made himself known.

For a time this Glory is concealed. As Meredith Kline observes, the pattern of concealment followed by glorious revelation that we see within the Old Testament itself 'has its antitypical parallel in the successive states of humiliation and exaltation in the history of the incarnate Son, whose triumphant exodus entrance into the heavenly kingdom is marked by his investiture in the clouds of glory as the glorified Spirit-Lord.'[1] The pattern of concealment followed by manifest glory is both recapitulated and escalated within the New Testament, so that, even with the dramatic displays of glory of the Exodus and Sinai succeeding the concealment of the patriarchal theophanies, the Old Testament represents, relative to the New, a period of concealment. While John may not record the event of the Transfiguration, he shares the Synoptics' concern to show forth Jesus as the temporarily veiled but now revealed Glory-face of God.

Within the next post, I will turn to explore the theme of priesthood and tabernacle in the context of the Transfiguration, discussing some further respects in which it parallels the events on Mount Sinai.

Notes

[1] Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999), p. 73

The guys at Beginning with Moses (a helpful site out of the UK on biblical theological matters) recently did an Interview with Vern Poythress on Biblical Theology. The interview is in conjunction with Dr. Poythress's introductory Survey of the History of Salvation for the ESV Study Bible.