In Parts 1 and 2 of this series I established the probable reasons for John the Baptists question concerning Jesus’ Messiahship. For the next few parts of this discussion I want to look into the specific title that John the Baptist uses. In Matthew 11:3, he asks Jesus if he is “the one who is to come,” making specific usage of an Old Testament idiom that shows up in several passages. Matthew 11:2-3 reads:
2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”1
To get a sense of how this applies to the messianic expectations at the time we can look at John 6 and the feeding of the 5,000. In that passage once everyone had eaten and the disciples had gathered the leftovers, the people proclaimed Jesus to be “the Prophet who is to come.” John 6:14 reads:
14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”
As we will see, this title has its roots in the Old Testament and in its usage the connotation that the coming Messiah was to be God himself.
Establishing the Sources
One of the quickest ways to get a good feel for particular thoughts that the author of a given passage is dealing with is to look at a good concordance.2 Most English Bible’s today will have a concordance available in the margins. The ESV has a pretty extensive one built into the translation. For example, if you look at Matthew 11:3 in the ESV for the “the one who is to come” you will find that it provides you with references to John 4:25; 6:14 and John 11:27.
Going to the original Greek, however, can also provide quite a bit more information. The Greek for “the one who is to come” is ho erchomenos (ὁ ἐρχόμενος) where ho is the definite article (the one) and erchomenos is the deponent verb for “coming.” Put together it can be “the one who is coming” or “the one who is to come.”3 This is helpful for all sorts of reasons but for this purpose, it is primarily sought for assistance in getting to some of the Old Testament passages that relate to this title.
Our English Bible translations are primarily based off of the Masoretic Text (MT) which is the Hebrew translation of the Old Testament achieved somewhere around 800 AD4 and while the Old Testament was predominantly written in Hebrew originally, the Hebrew was not what the New Testament authors were using most of the time. Rather, they were making much use of the Septuagint (LXX) translation of the Old Testament which was derived from much earlier copies, roughly 2-300 years before Christ.5
I point all of this out because it can sometimes be confusing to know why one might be inclined to jump back and forth from the LXX to the MT and all of my initial searches are done using the LXX. I do this for two reasons. The first is that, as I said above, the LXX was, more often than not, what the New Testament authors were using at least in their quotations of the Old Testament. That means we can look to the LXX as an authoritative translation of the Old Testament that we know was in use well before Christ. One thing that will be noted, however, is that there are times where the LXX is used right alongside another version of Scripture that the New Testament authors had as will be the case in one of the passages we’ll be looking at. The second reason I am starting with the LXX is that the LXX provides us with the Old Testament in the same language as the New. There isn’t much of a need to try to figure out the most probable Hebrew equivalent of a given word but instead you can get to that rather quickly by starting with the LXX. In this case, a search for ho erchomenos in the LXX will bring us to Psalm 118:26.6
Song of Praise
In one of my English translations of the LXX Psalm 118:26 reads:
26 Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord: we have blessed you out of the house of the Lord.[Emphasis mine.]7
The bolded text is ho erchomenos. Anyone who has read through significant sections of the Gospels will recognize this. It is part of the Hallel and likely one of the songs of Praise that was sung during the Last Supper in Matthew 26:30. Psalm 118:26 is specifically quoted in Matthew 23:39, Mark 11:9, Luke 13:35, 19:38 and John 12:13.
This entire Psalm can be understood as heavily Messianic but because this series of posts is focusing on Matthew 11:2-6, I’ll be looking specifically at Psalm 118:21-27. This passage of Scripture reads:
21 I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
23 This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save us, we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27 The LORD is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!
One of the primary themes of Psalm 118 is salvation. Salvation is mentioned 3 times total in Psalm 118:14, 15, 21. In fact, Psalm 118:14 is a quotation of Exodus 15:2 which is also quoted in Isaiah 12:2. The Hebrew word for Salvation in all of these verses is yeshua (יְשׁוּעָה) which is the name for Jesus. For each of these verses you could essentially replace salvation with Yeshua and you have “my Yeshua” in Psalm 118:14 and Psalm 118:21, and “Glad songs of Yeshua” in Psalm 118:15. All of this sets the stage for what is arguably one of the most well known idioms for the Messiah, the stone in Psalm 118:22.
The Stone of Offense
Psalm 118:22 is quoted and alluded to throughout the New Testament. In Acts 4:12 Peter states specifically that Jesus is “the stone” and the leaders of Israel are “the builders” who rejected the stone. This is also what Jesus states in Luke 20:17. In that passage, the Great Logician is handling the inquiring chief priests and scribes who seek to entrap him. Jesus tells the parable of the wicked tenants who maintain a vineyard for its owner while he is away. The owner sends several servants to obtain some of the fruits of the vineyard but the tenants beat and cast out all of them. Finally the owner sends his own son whom the tenants decide to murder so that they can obtain the inheritance. The conclusion of the parable has the owner destroying the wicked tenants and giving the vineyard to others instead.
Of course the chief priests and scribes understood what was being said and were aghast at the thought that God would destroy them and give his inheritance to anyone else. Christ then asks them what is meant by Psalm 118:22, quoting it specifically and alluding further to Isaiah 8:13-15. That Isaiah passage again alludes to the stone and those who are crushed by it. I’ll come back to that passage in a moment but first it’s worth noting the quotation in 1 Peter 2:7-8.
In 1 Peter 2:7-8, Peter quotes Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14. In both of those verses Peter uses the Greek word lithos (λίθος) for stone. This is different from petra (πέτρα) which is used in Matthew 16:18 for “this rock” in reference to the faith of Peter and the story of the wise and foolish builders in Matthew 7:24-27 where petra is “the rock” that the wise builders built their house on. In both of those instances, petra is used as an idiom for trusting in the Word (or Wisdom) of God.8 Lithos, on the other hand, and specifically in these passages, is dealing with Christ himself.
The reason all of this becomes important is in the choice that Peter makes for his quotation of Isaiah 8:14. Comparing 1 Peter 2:8 with the LXX and MT we see that 1 Peter 2:8 reads:
8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.[Emphasis mine.]
However, in the LXX, Isaiah 8:14 reads:
14 And if thou shalt trust in him, he shall be to thee for a sanctuary; and ye shall not come against him as against a stumbling-stone, neither as against the falling of a rock: but the houses of Jacob are in a snare, and the dwellers in Jerusalem in a pit.[Emphasis mine.]9
The LXX is quite a bit different than what Peter used but looking at the MT and most of our English versions it reads:
14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem.[Emphasis mine.]
I’ve put in bold the relevant sections of the verse. What becomes obvious is that Peter is quoting something that resembles the MT much more closely than the LXX, however, Peter had quoted the LXX exactly for his quotation of Psalm 118:22 in the previous verse.10 Because of this, in looking at Isaiah 8:13-15, it is worth going directly to the MT. Isaiah 8:13-15 reads:
13 But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.
Paying close attention to verses 13 and 14 you have the LORD as the one who should be honored and feared and he is the stone of offense. He is the one on whom any falls is broken. Recall that in Luke 20:17-18 Jesus alluded to the fact that he was the stone, the lithos, and any who fell on him would be broken and any on whom the stone fell would be crushed. In both Isaiah 8:14 and Psalm 118:26, the word used for stone in the LXX is lithos. How this comes back around to Matthew 11:2-6 and “the one who is to come” is this. In 1 Peter 2:8, Peter is quoting something that resembles our Hebrew copy of the Old Testament but translating it into Greek. He chooses lithos for stone and skandalon (σκάνδαλον) for offense. When Jesus closes his statement to the disciples of John the Baptist he makes an interesting comment. He says in Matthew 11:6:
6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”[Emphasis mine.]
The Greek word for offended is skandalizo (σκανδαλίζω), the verb form of skandalon.
What we end up with is this, the title “the one who is to come,” is not only firmly rooted in Old Testament Scripture, but it is prophetic in that it points to God himself being the one who is to come. Jesus establishes that it is he who is this “one.”
To finish up with the rest of the section of Psalm 118 we see that the placement of the rejected stone as the cornerstone is the work of the LORD and that those who are not offended by him recognize that it is marvelous. They rejoice and are glad in this work of the LORD and recognize the stone as the one who is to come. Finally in Psalm 118:27 it reads “The LORD is God and he has made his light to shine upon us.” This echoes back to the Aaronic Blessing of Numbers 6:24-26 where it reads “The LORD make his face shine upon you…” Although in that passage it is a request, in Psalm 118:27 the request has been granted. In John 8:12 Jesus says he is “the light of the world.” And what is the response? The festal sacrifice in Psalm 118:27, the acceptable sacrifice – that is Christ. Is it any wonder this Psalm is sung at Passover, the hymn they were most likely singing during the last supper in Matthew 26:30? In the next post I’ll take a look at the one who is to come referenced in Daniel 7:13.
- All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society. ↩
- A concordance is basically a reference to lists of words or thoughts that are used throughout a given text giving you the ability to cross reference them with their usage elsewhere. ↩
- Black, D. A. (2009). Learn to read New Testament Greek (3rd ed) (152). Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group. ↩
- The consonantal MT was notably completed around 200 AD with vowel markers and accents added around 800 AD. ↩
- Michael Rydelnik presents a very concise and easy to follow demonstration for why the MT should not be considered the received text, but rather “as the top layer of a distinct postbiblical exegetical tradition” in Chapter 3 of The Messianic Hope: Is The Hebrew Bible Really Messianic? (2010). Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group. ↩
- Psalm 117 in the LXX. ↩
- Brenton, L. C. L. (1870). The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament: English Translation (Ps 117:26). London: Samuel Bagster and Sons. ↩
- This Matthew passage destroys the claims of Catholicism which tries to insist that Peter is “the rock”. Jesus says specifically that the rock is the Word of God and equates the building of the house on rock or sand to those who either “trust and do” or “hear and do not” “these words of” Christ. ↩
- Brenton, L. C. L. (1870). The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament: English Translation (Is 8:14). London: Samuel Bagster and Sons. ↩
- Beale, G. K., & Carson, D. A. (2007). Commentary on the New Testament use of the Old Testament (1027). Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic; Apollos. ↩
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