God “restarted Israel in her Messiah, Jesus”

December 9, 2015

first_daysMatthew cites four prophecy fulfillments in his Christmas narrative of Matthew 2. The one cited in v. 15 is curious because it cites an Old Testament passage, Hosea 11:1, which isn’t, on its face, prophetic: Hosea is looking backward in time, when God delivered Israel (“my son”) out of slavery in Egypt.

In their new book, The First Days of Jesus, Köstenberger and Stewart explain what Matthew is up to. He’s using Israel’s experience as a typology for Jesus. This means that Israel’s history foreshadows Jesus. In scholarly jargon, Israel, whom Hosea calls God’s son, is the “type,” and Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, is the “anti-type.”

Israel’s purpose in the Old Testament was to mediate God’s blessing, presence, and glory to the nations. Reflecting on Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon, Christopher Wright aptly notes that “they were not only to be the beneficiaries of God’s promise to Abraham (in that they would not die out but increase), they were also to be the agents of God’s promise to Abraham that through his descendants the nations would be blessed.”… Israel failed in this purpose by rejecting God in favor of idolatry, but God’s purpose and plan would not be thwarted.

In Matthew’s view, God restarted Israel in her Messiah, Jesus. Jesus relived the history of Israel, but, instead of failing in the purpose to mediate God’s blessings to the nations, Jesus succeeded in his sinless life and atoning death. You may not be familiar with thinking about Jesus as a “second Israel,” but this is surely how Matthew understood him.[1]

Just as Israel was exiled in Egypt, Jesus, the “second Israel,” was also exiled in Egypt.

The authors discuss three more ways that Matthew communicates this typology: 1) Jesus chooses twelve disciples to correspond with the twelve tribes of Israel. 2) Jesus’ 40 days of testing in the wilderness corresponded to Israel’s 40 years of testing in the wilderness on the way to the promised land. Israel, of course, failed spectacularly to be faithful during its period of testing, whereas Jesus succeeded. 3) Jesus’ baptism corresponded to Israel’s passing through the waters of the Red Sea. This also makes sense of Jesus’ words to John the Baptist that Jesus’ baptism is “fitting” in order for them “to fulfill all righteousness” in Matthew 3:15.

Typology is based on a view of history that sees it unfolding in “recurring, escalating patterns characteristic of God’s supernatural divine intervention.”[2]

This makes a lot of sense to me.

N.T. Wright uses similar language to describe the continuity between Israel’s and Jesus’ mission. In one of his books (Simply Christian, I think) he describes how, throughout biblical history, we see God’s winnowing down Israel to faithful remnants, until the faithful remnant becomes exactly one man, Jesus.

Jesus, through his life, death, and resurrection, becomes faithful Israel after Israel itself has proven unfaithful. And this, of course, was God’s plan all along.

The more I explore these avenues of biblical thought, the less patience I have for that harmful but pervasive idea that the “New Testament God” is different from the “Old Testament God,” or that now that we have the New Testament, we no longer need the Old Testament.

If anything, I’m appreciating more and more how much of the gospel of Jesus Christ is found in the Old Testament! In fact, we can’t begin to make sense of the New without the Old. Why do so many preachers fail to preach from it? The Old Testament, like the New, is all about Jesus!

Regardless, the Old Testament has come alive to me over the past five years or so. I hope it does (or will) to you, too.

1. Andreas Köstenberger and Alexander Stewart, The First Days of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 80-1.

2. Ibid., 82.

2 Responses to “God “restarted Israel in her Messiah, Jesus””

  1. Grant Essex Says:

    I couldn’t agree more. Everything in the Old and New Testaments points to Jesus, and Jesus alone as the Saving Hope of all Mankind. God’s plan is to do everything through, by and for the sake of Jesus.

    We have a lively group in my Wednesday Bible study class that refuses to limit God’s plan of Salvation to Jesus, and Jesus alone. No matter how many places you can point to in the Bible that say “only in Jesus” is there salvation, they believe that God their God is not so small as to limit himself in that way. I believe that Jesus is so Large, that God would not even consider another way, outside of the saving sacrifice of his only Son. To do so would be blasphemy in its on way.

    But, I don’t think I will ever succeed in convincing these folks that this is the case. I may be wrong, but I just don’t see any indication of it in the Word of God. Why would God say one thing, but mean another?? Why do people think that they must come to God’s rescue, from being seen as “unfair”??

    • brentwhite Says:

      Couldn’t have said it better, Grant. This is what C.S. Lewis meant when he said we modern humans have put God “in the dock”—a defendant in court. Oh brother!

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