Volume II: Fulfillment (The New Testament)
Part 5: Christ, the Perfect Eikon: Oneness Restored
(Matthew – John [Gospels])
Vignette 16: Incarnation (Matthew 1 – 2; Luke 1 – 2; John 1:1 – 18)
When we left off our story, the Israelites were crying out to YHWH in distress because of their enslavement to foreign empires, even as they were allowed to return home to Jerusalem. Four hundred years have passed, and the Israelites are still in bondage to foreign rulers. The Persian Empire has been conquered by the Greek Empire, which has been conquered by the Roman Empire. With each new empire rising to power, the Israelites face greater hardships and oppression. Different sects of Israelites eventually form—the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, the Zealots, the Herodians, and so on. Each group has its own respective approach to their Roman oppressors, from the Herodians, who try to cozy up to Rome and gain political power of their own, to the Zealots, who try to liberate the Israelites from their bondage to Rome—often even resorting to violent terrorist tactics in order to do so. There is one thing every group has in common, however, and that is their desire and hope for the coming of the kingly messiah or savior from the line of David, who was prophesied about by the prophets of old and who will deliver the people from their bondage when he arrives.
Thus when an angel visits a young woman named Mary and tells her that she will give birth to a son, Jesus, and that “the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end,” Mary is so overjoyed that she bursts forth in prophecy about her son:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
even as he said to our fathers.” (Luke 1:46-55)
Meanwhile, Mary’s relatives, Elizabeth and Zechariah, are also told by an angel that they will have a son, John, who will prepare the way for the messiah. When John is born, his father Zechariah also prophesies about his son:
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has come and has redeemed his people.
He has raised up a horn
of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us—
to show mercy to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath he swore to our father Abraham:
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies,
and to enable us to serve him without fear
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:68-79)
Mary and Zechariah both see that this baby Jesus will finally bring about all of the promises God had made to his people long ago. As the messiah of Israel and a direct descendant of King David, Jesus would reestablish a kingdom, deliver the Israelites from their bondage, and finally establish the peace or shalom that the people have longed for since they were brought out of Egypt.
However, the news of the birth of Israel’s messiah is not received favorably by everyone. Most notably King Herod—who has spent his career trying to get in good with Rome so that they would establish him as king of the Jews—does not take kindly to word that the Jewish messiah has been born. He tries to have Jesus caught and brought to him, but when Jesus cannot be found, Herod goes on a murderous rampage, ordering every boy under two years of age in Bethlehem—the city where Jesus was born—to be killed. Mary and her husband Joseph are able to escape and flee to Egypt with their son Jesus, where they live until Herod dies and it is safe to return. Then just as Israel had done centuries earlier, Jesus exists Egypt and enters the Promised Land. But while Israel was unable to walk faithfully with God, Jesus will now become the model of faithfulness. And while Israel was thus unable to be the light to other nations that God intended them to be, an old man named Simeon prophesies about the baby Jesus as he holds him in the temple:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)
(1) At Christmas the birth of Jesus is celebrated by Christians all around the world. But in the context of Israel’s bondage to Rome, what was the original significance of Jesus’ birth for the Jewish people?
(2) Why does King Herod try to have Jesus killed?
(3) What do Mary and Zechariah prophesy about their sons, Jesus and John? What does Simeon add about Jesus?
Monday, June 14, 2010
Volume II: Fulfillment (The New Testament)
Posted by D.C. Cramer at 3:35 AM