I've been reading some GREAT books on the New Testament lately, and I honestly feel like I've been handed a pair of 3-D glasses with which to read (and understand!) the Bible more profoundly than ever before. What used to be flat, bland, or even puzzling has come alive and started to pop off of the page. Rather than keep this treasure for myself, I wanted to pass it on to you!
If you can image a pair of 3-D glasses (at least the ones from long ago), there was a red lens and a blue lens. With these working together, an image that was specially produced for viewing with those glasses comes to life. Without them, the same image is rather blurry, and if you stare at it too long you get a headache. So too the Bible for many people! A growing number of scholars are beginning to pick up on major themes in the New Testament that were missed in recent centuries. For some reason the lenses most scholars were wearing just didn't allow them to see what was there all along. If the NT was written with these twin ideas giving shape to everything, then we'd better put on our 3-D glasses so we can figure out what it means!
So are you ready? Here are the 2 major keys that have breathed life back into the pages of Scripture for me this month. They are distinct from each other (like the blue and red lenses), but when taken together they form a startlingly clear picture.
Lens #1 - Jesus is the 'true Israel.' A lot of what Jesus says and does makes perfect sense when viewed through this lens. Israel was called 'God's son' in the Old Testament (Ex 4:22), but they failed to do what God designed them to do (Deut 32:5). They were supposed to obey him fully and in that way become a light to the nations (Isa 42:1-9). But because they rebelled and were carried off into exile, they, too were in need of salvation (Isa 49:5-7).
When Jesus is called God's Son it should be a flashing red light that he is the one who will do and be what Israel was to do and be. His perfect obedience is patterned after Israel's failures. One of the most poignant examples is the temptation account (Matt 4:1-11). There Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness being tested by satan. He resists those temptations by using scriptures from Deuteronomy which described Israel's time of testing in the wilderness. There could not be a more intentional parallel. Jesus does perfectly what Israel should have done, and that qualifies him to be the light to the nations that they should have been. Now, through faith in Jesus (the true Israelite) we become spiritual Israelites as well. The promises made to them are fulfilled in us. Obviously much more could be said. But on to the next one.
Lens #2 - Jesus is Yahweh. Much of Jesus' ministry was an acting out of what the Jews expected Yahweh (God) to come and do for them after the return from exile. The miracles, the victory over satan, the calming of the sea, the regathering of (true) Israel, and the establishment of His kingdom were all things that the OT predicted Yahweh Himself doing (Isa 52:7-10). Jesus' deliberate journey to Jerusalem at the climax of his ministry was actually the promised return of Yahweh to fill Jerusalem with His presence (Matt 21). But because of the failure of the Jews to recognize and believe in Him his coming was marked by judgement.
I've only just begun to watch for the ways in which Jesus dramatizes OT prophecies or fulfills them through his actions, and my list is growing. What excites me about this is that it is an entirely different angle from which to demonstrate His deity! My Jehovah's Witness friends have already heard all the usual 'proof texts' about Jesus being God and they have answers for them. But this cuts underneath all that debate to reveal the profound truth about who He is. If we truly believe the OT prophecies, and then we see how Jesus does what Yahweh was supposed to do we have only two options. We can suppose that God changed his mind and settled for an ambassador instead of coming Himself as He promised (NO!), or we can recognize that Jesus was Himself Almighty God. Why didn't He just say it plainly? Because a direct announcement would have resulted in a premature crucifixion. All along the way He acted out His message boldly and let those actions speak for themselves. Those who had eyes to see and ears to hear figured it out and gave Him their full allegiance.
If you want more about how to read the NT in 3-D, I recommend the following great books:
N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (he has many other books which touch on similar themes)
G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church's Mission (reviewed in more detail below)
G.K. Beale and D.A. Carson (eds), Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (This commentary is worth its weight in gold. If you can only afford one NT commentary, make this the one!)