Tuesday, February 23, 2010

the New Testament in 3-D

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!)


  1. "Why didn't He just say it plainly?"

    Yeshua may not have revealed his deity to men -- at first -- but he does to Satan after his baptism in the wilderness:

    Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, 'HE WILL COMMAND HIS ANGELS CONCERNING YOU'; and 'ON their HANDS THEY WILL BEAR YOU UP, SO THAT YOU WILL NOT STRIKE YOUR FOOT AGAINST A STONE.'"

    Jesus said to him, "On the other hand, it is written, 'YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD [Peshitta: למריא אלהך vs יְהוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֑ם (Deu 6.16 MT)] TO THE TEST.'" (Mat 4.5-7 NAU, my notes in brackets)

    As Moses was given the commandments in the wilderness during the 40 days and nights of fasting, during the 40 days and nights of fasting Yeshua shows it was he, as YHWH Elohim, who gave the commandments to Moses.

  2. Instead of bread during his 40-day fast Moses was given the word on tablets of stone from God prefigured by Israel given manna from heaven to sustain them (both reflected in Yeshua as the Word and manna from heaven who is the bread of life) which is recalled by Moses:

    “He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.” [Targum Onkelos: every forth-coming word (מֵימַר) from before the Lord] (Deu 8.3 NAU, notes in brackets)

    Yeshua reiterates this passage during his own fasting and testing, drawing our attention to these typological parallels and OT fulfillments:

    And the tempter came and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." But He answered and said, "It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'" (Mat 4.3-4 NAU)

    Likewise the Israelites were tested during the same 40 days and nights in the wilderness but by the intercession of one man, Mosses, a remnant were saved and by the intercession of one man, Yeshua, the faithful are saved.

    Yeshua was tested in the wilderness for 40 days after he was brought out of the water of the Jordan river just as Israel was tested in the wilderness for 40 days (40 years overall) after they were brought out of the Red Sea (Yam Suph).

    Further parallels with Noah coming out of the flood from raining 40 days can also be drawn; 40 being associated with trial/birthpangs -- birth out of the waters of the womb after 40 weeks of human gestation (avg) when the child is born with a loud cry/shout and the breath/ruach enters as the Spirit/bird figure present in all cases (Gen 8.8, Exo 19.4, Mat 3.26; also cp Gen 1.2).

    These elements sync up with the theme of Rosh Hashanah/Feast of Trumpets and the birthpangs of the Messiah’s coming on the last trump with a shout as prefigured in the star map depicted in Rev 12.1-2 on his first coming on the new moon of Rosh Hashanah 3/2 BCE (Ernest Martin's Star that Astonished the World: www.askelm.com/star/star004.htm and http://www.askelm.com/star/star006.htm).

    Yeshua’s tempter in the wilderness is called Satan in Mark's gospel. Interestingly, in the Aramaic paraphrase we find Satan is also mentioned in Israel’s testing during the 40 day trial in the wilderness, in the midst of the ‘festivities’ around the golden calf as if leading the crowd:

    And it was when Mosheh came near the camp, and saw the calf, and the instruments of music in the hands of the wicked, who were dancing and bowing before it, and Satana among them dancing and leaping before the people, the wrath of Mosheh was suddenly kindled… (Exo 32.19a PJE)

    Pray we do not let the tempter steal our faith with endless deceptive contrivances, ploys, distractions and with tribulations that will increase, as with the apostles and martyrs ever since then to today, "lest any of you should be disheartened by these afflictions; for ye know, that we are appointed thereto. For also when we were with you, we forewarned you, that we were to be afflicted; as ye know did occur. Therefore also I could not be quiet, until I sent to learn your faith; lest the Tempter should have tempted you, and our labor have been in vain." (1Th 3.3-5)

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