May 282013
 
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series The One Who Is To Come

The response that Jesus gives to the disciples of John the Baptist is one that points back to numerous Old Testament passages with an emphasis on Isaiah.  They asked Jesus if he was indeed the one who is to come and so it only makes sense that the answer, being in the affirmative, is one that is going to settle the issue in regards to what was being expected.  Matthew 11:2-6 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?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”1

The first part of the response presents the start of what will become somewhat of a chiastic answer.  He says “tell John what you hear and see” and then answers based on what would be seen and then heard.  But it should also be noted that there is much more than sense perception being discussed here.  As far as Scripture is concerned, seeing is somewhat baseless.  The Pharisees saw the “deeds of the Christ” just the same as anyone else and yet they simply couldn’t understand what was being presented to them.  So also, the disciples heard Jesus preach the good news to the poor, quite possibly on numerous occasions and yet Jesus still had to “open their minds to understand” that he would be killed, buried and rise again in Luke 24:45.

What You Hear And See

Jesus emphasizes this issue in Matthew 13:13-15.  He quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 in the LXX saying:

13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive. 15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’

Notice that in the opening line Jesus says they see but they don’t see, they hear but they don’t hear and finalizes it with the fact that they do not understand.  This is further specified in the Isaiah passage where the order of hearing and seeing is the same that Jesus gives in Matthew 11:4, “tell John what you hear” – you will indeed hear but never understand – “and see” – you will indeed see but never perceive.  I don’t say this to condemn John’s disciples.  We have no way of knowing what the disciples took away from Jesus’ answer.  The point is that simple reliance on our senses for understanding is not biblical and Matthew 11:2-6 hints at this issue.2

And so Jesus begins his answer which he gives as 3 pairs of items capped with a beatitude – 7 elements in all.  We have the blind receiving their site, the lame walking, lepers cleansed, deaf (or mute) hearing, dead raised to life and the poor hearing the Gospel finalized by a blessing to those who are not offended by Jesus.  Each of the initial 6 items are echoes from miracles that were performed in the previous few chapters and further predicted in the Old Testament.  All of them together can look back to Isaiah 6:9-10 in that they are things that are to be seen, heard and understood.

The Authority Of The Messiah

What each of these miracles should invoke isn’t so much the capability of Jesus to do the miracle, but that Jesus has the authority to do them.  In all of these items, Jesus is demonstrating divine authority and yet he is clearly a human being.  Again this looks back to what has already been discussed in this series – that the one who is to come, or the coming one, was to be God in human form.  After Jesus heals the lame man (the lame walk), in Matthew 9:2-8 the crowds were astonished and acknowledged that God had to have given the authority to do this.  Matthew 9:8 reads:

8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

This authority is directly linked to the authority to forgive sin.  That is what the healing of the lame man was all about.  The crowds glorified God who had given such authority to men through the Son of Man.  The language in this passage is somewhat difficult but the idea isn’t simply that men in general have been given authority to forgive sin, but that the representative of mankind, the Son of Man, has been given this authority.3

Conclusion

And in each of the accounts of these miracles the people making the requests have already put their trust in Christ.  They request it as though they already understand that he can do what they are asking.  This should certainly be a point to take away from all of this.  When we, as Christians, speak of faith, we are not using some stupid idea of blind belief in spite of evidence to the contrary, like the rest of the world does.  Faith for us is trust that Christ is who he said he was.  In the final three parts of this discussion I will look at the miracles themselves and how they relate to the authority of the Messiah and the promises given about him in the Old Testament.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  2. This is one of those topics that just can’t seem to be exhausted. The possibility of knowledge is logically prior to sense perception which Scripture acknowledges and I’ve discussed in The Johannine Logos. Also, the series of posts on our Innate Knowledge of God is worth taking a look at in light of this topic.
  3. Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Matthew (167). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

May 212013
 
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series The One Who Is To Come

Part 3 of this series looked specifically at the title of “the one who is to come” along with its implications found in Psalm 118:26.  For this next part of the series I will take a look at how the title appears in Daniel 7:13-14.  As we will see, the one who is to come was not only to be God himself, but God in human form.

Daniel 7:13-14 is a part of the visions that the prophet Daniel receives of the four beasts.  Chapter 7 in its entirety deals with these visions along with their interpretations given to Daniel by one of the angels in attendance, possibly Gabriel.1  Since our purposes here are only dealing with the title of ‘the one who is to come’ I will simply be focusing on verses 13 and 14.  The ESV reads:

13 “I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.[Emphasis mine.]2

The Greek erchomenos (ἐρχόμενος) is behind the bold in verse 13.  This particular instance lacks the definite article ho (ὁ) but is no less important.  Both the Septuagint and MT rendering offer very little variance but I’ll note that the LXX has the one like a son of man coming on the clouds rather than with them.

Identifying The Son Of Man

Much is debated over the identity of who this person is that is coming on the clouds and is presented to the Ancient of Days but there are 3 primary views that should be addressed.  The first is that this being is the archangel Michael and the “holy ones” or saints in verses 18 and 27 are his followers.3  While the angel view as a whole simply doesn’t work as will be presented, the idea that the “holy ones” are angels is specifically defeated by the text in Daniel 7:27 which reads:

27 and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High;
his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom,
and all dominions shall serve and obey him.

The bolded item there would be better translated as “holy people.”  The saints, or “holy ones” are not distinct from the people in this verse.

The second view is that the one like a son of man is the personification of the Jewish nation.  The reasoning is given primarily due to the believers receiving the kingdom in verse 27 as was quoted just above.  While there are several difficulties with this view the primary one stems from verse 14 itself.  In that verse it states that “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.”  The problem is that him (can be he/she/it) is singular and all people are to serve, or worship, the singular him.  But Revelation 19:10 is very clear, one shouldn’t worship anyone but God.  This not only gives us further implications of this beings deity but also hints at the nature of the Godhead.

And that brings us to the third view which has the one like a son of man as none other than Jesus Christ.  This view is not only the oldest but is the most prevailing in historical Christian opinion, not to mention Jewish commentary which attributes the being as the Messiah himself.4  That the New Testament holds this view is undeniable from numerous sources but perhaps the most important one comes from John 12:34 which reads:

34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”

In this verse both “the Messiah” (the Christ) and “the Son of Man” are used interchangeably.  This demonstrates that the most common view at the time of Christ would have been that “the Son of Man” was a title for the Messiah.  Further emphasis can come from Mark 14:61-62, 64 which reads:

61 But he remained silent and made no answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” 62 And Jesus said, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” … 64 You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?” And they all condemned him as deserving death.

Many argue that this passage is one of the strongest passages demonstrating that Jesus not only ascribed Deity to himself, but that this would have been the earliest Christian view.5  We can see this because Jesus affirms the question – he is the Messiah, the Son of the Most High, attributes himself as the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds.  Their response was that this was blasphemy and punishable by death.  He can be referring to no other Old Testament passage of Scripture but Daniel 7:13-14.6

The Son of Man

While the title “The Son of Man” is no doubt messianic with divine implications it also foreshadows something that many might incidentally overlook.  The title itself is one that demonstrates the humanity of Jesus.  The Messiah was to be God himself, as I’ve already demonstrated both here and in Part 3 of this series.  But he would also be the human representative.  The “one like a son of man” is alluding to the human form of this being but also that he is a representative of mankind.  In fact, the LXX renders the line as “a being like a son of mankind.”7

This is important for numerous reasons, not the least of which is the nature of the Godhead.  If the “one like a son of man” is Christ and Deity and the Ancient of Days is clearly Deity, why are they presented as distinct and yet the same?  The Messiah is God in human form.

But as a representative of mankind, Christ is then the just judge as Jesus alludes to in Matthew 16:27-28.  This is only solidified in Matthew 19:28, Matthew 24:30 and Matthew 25:31.  And this authority to judge is not exclusive to the New Testament.  It can be seen in Isaiah 2:2-4, Isaiah 9:6-7, most of Isaiah 11 and Ezekiel 34:23-24.  Hebrews 4:15 notes specifically that our High Priest is one who was in all ways like us, but did not sin.

Conclusion

The title “the one who is to come” is rooted in Psalm 118:26 and hinted at in Daniel 7:13-14.  Through these passages we can see that the Messiah was to be God himself in human form.  Jesus clearly associates himself as the “one like a son of man” who is to rule as the righteous judge under full authority of God the Father.  In the next few posts I’ll look specifically at the deeds which Christ points to as the witness of who he is.

  1. See Daniel 8:16 and Daniel 9:21.
  2. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  3. This view is presented by J. J. Collins in “The Son of Man and the Saints of the Most High in the Book of Daniel,” JBL 93 (1974): 50–66.
  4. Miller, S. R. (1994). Vol. 18: Daniel. The New American Commentary (209). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  5. Mark is regarded as the earliest written Gospel narrative and a source text for both Matthew and Luke.  See Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
  6. Ibid. footnote 4.
  7. The Lexham English Septuagint. 2012 (R. Brannan, K. M. Penner, I. Loken, M. Aubrey & I. Hoogendyk, Ed.) (Da 7:14). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

May 072013
 
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series The One Who Is To Come

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.

Conclusion

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.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  2. 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.
  3. Black, D. A. (2009). Learn to read New Testament Greek (3rd ed) (152). Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group.
  4. The consonantal MT was notably completed around 200 AD with vowel markers and accents added around 800 AD.
  5. 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.
  6. Psalm 117 in the LXX.
  7. Brenton, L. C. L. (1870). The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament: English Translation (Ps 117:26). London: Samuel Bagster and Sons.
  8. 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.
  9. Brenton, L. C. L. (1870). The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament: English Translation (Is 8:14). London: Samuel Bagster and Sons.
  10. 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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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Apr 232013
 
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series The One Who Is To Come

In Matthew 11:2-6, John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus if he is indeed the one who is to come.  Jesus’ response is one that confirms he is the one they were to be looking for, not by a simple admission but by pointing to the deeds he was doing.  In the previous post for this series I had noted that I didn’t accept the common accusation of doubt that many commentators seem to attribute to the Baptist though I basically held that supposition.  After some further study this week I realized that I’m not the only one who disagrees with that interpretation.  In fact, it seems, at least several of the early church fathers had quite a different view as to why John was asking Jesus this question.  I think their view makes much better sense of the passage as a whole and thought it would be worth spending another post on before getting into the main purpose of this discussion.

The Doubt Of John The Baptist

To start, I want to take a look at how some of the commentators handle John’s questioning.  John Nolland, in his commentary on Matthew writes:

John speaks through the mouthpiece of his disciples: the words are his and not theirs … It is not clear how we are to relate John’s confidence about Jesus’ identity implicit in 3:14 with the present questioning, but a certain discomforting tension between John’s expectations and what Jesus did is common property to Matthew 3:14, 9:14, 11:3. John needed to come to terms with the fact that the one of whom he had now been hearing such remarkable things was, despite the quite unexpected form of his ministry, the one whom he had heralded as eschatological judge and deliverer—‘the one coming after’ John (Mt. 3:11).1

Nolland brings up Matthew 3:14 and Matthew 9:14 as demonstrative of a “tension between John’s expectations and what Jesus did.”  One of the things I would point out here, however, is that there is more relationship between Matthew 9:14 and Matthew 11:3 than there is with either of those verses and Matthew 3:14; primarily because in both 9:14 and 11:3 we have John’s disciples in the picture.  We can see that Nolland fully attributes this doubt to John the Baptist, specifically noting that the words are John’s and not his disciples.  Craig Blomberg writes similarly:

Here Matthew notes only John’s doubts, which lead him to send his followers to question Jesus. He has heard specifically of the works of the Christ (NIV lacks the article). The “works” presumably refer to Jesus’ entire ministry thus far but focus specifically on his miracles as illustrated in chaps. 8–9. These mighty deeds should have reinforced John’s confidence in Jesus’ messiahship. Why then does one who had such a high view of Jesus (3:11–14) now question him?2

For a look at one more, Stuart Weber’s commentary on Matthew also attributes the doubt specifically to John.  He writes:

Matthew is not saying that John knew Jesus was the promised Christ (“anointed One,” equivalent to the Heb. “Messiah”). In fact, while John suspected this to be true, the fact that he sent his disciples to inquire of Jesus revealed his doubts. Perhaps John, in the hopelessness of his imprisonment, was swayed by the popular expectations of the promised Messiah-King—that he would come to rescue Israel from political oppression. John may have been genuinely asking. “If you are the king and I am your ambassador, how is it that I am in prison and opposition to you is growing?”3

So the modern view seems to be that it is indeed John’s doubt that is needing to be assuaged in this passage.  So John, while in prison, sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask him if he is the one who is to come.  But what I couldn’t help noticing was that while this view on the surface would seem to make the most sense, that isn’t how many of the great scholars of old had interpreted the passage.

Giving The Benefit Of The Doubt

For example, Augustine goes through great lengths explaining that the problem was that John’s disciples were doubting Jesus was the Christ so John told them to go ask him themselves.  He writes:

Therefore because John’s disciples highly esteemed their master, they heard from John his record concerning Christ, and marvelled; and as he was about to die, it was his wish that they should be confirmed by him. For no doubt they were saying among themselves; Such great things doth he say of Him, but none such of himself. “Go then, ask Him;” not because I doubt, but that ye may be instructed. “Go, ask Him,” hear from Himself what I am in the habit of telling you; ye have heard the herald, be confirmed by the Judge. “Go, ask Him, Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” They went accordingly and asked; not for John’s sake, but for their own.4

Augustine, throughout this homily, writes from the point of view that John the Baptist is the herald of Christ and Christ is the Judge himself.  The disciples of John are witnessing their rabbi in prison and wonder why the herald would be meeting this demise and are likely doubting John’s own claims of Jesus.  It’s amazing what this starting point does for the passage as a whole since Jesus then goes on to, not only confirm who John is, but to praise John as the greatest of those born of women!  The basis of this starting point is that of Matthew 11:6 which reads “and blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  Augustine states quite plainly of this “[d]o not suspect that John was offended in Christ.”5

Chrysostom takes this same position and further reiterates the point of Matthew 11:6, writing:

Wherefore also He covertly added His reproof of them. That is, because they were “offended in Him,” He by setting forth their case and leaving it to their own conscience alone, and by calling no witness of this His accusation, but only themselves that knew it all, did thus also draw them the more unto Himself, in saying, Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” For indeed His secret meaning was of them when He said this.6

In fact, when Chrysostom was preaching on this he built what I think is probably the most surefire case of this interpretation.7  He notes this same John was heralding the coming of Jesus even before he was born in Luke 1:41-44. I’ll add that John had the Spirit of God prior to birth in Luke 1:15.

But know that what is often claimed, and I held to this in the previous post, is that John the Baptist was likely having doubts due to missed eschatological expectations.  Chrysostom brilliantly writes that in the proclamation that John the Baptist gives in John 1:29, that Jesus is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” he couldn’t possibly be confused with what that title meant for the Messiah.  What’s more, in Matthew 3:11, John says of Jesus that He will baptize with the Spirit.  This is a post-resurrection event.  In these statements, John foretells both the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Chrysostom also makes some observations about John’s disciples.  In John 3:25-30 the disciples go to John and inform him “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”8  And John’s response is most telling.  He says “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’”  At least some of John’s disciples didn’t like the idea that Jesus must increase and John must decrease.

Earlier in Matthew 9:14, John’s disciples ask of Jesus why they and the Pharisees fast but Jesus and His disciples do not.  From this we can know that at least some of John’s disciples needed clarification and went to Jesus for the answer.  Because of the evidence we have regarding some of John’s disciples, Chrysostom surmises the disciples are jealous of Jesus, that he is getting the attention they think John deserves.  So John sends them for their own benefit.  He writes:

What then doth he? He waits to hear from them that Christ is working miracles, and not even so doth he admonish them, nor doth he send all, but some two (whom he perhaps knew to be more teachable than the rest); that the inquiry might be made without suspicion, in order that from His acts they might learn the difference between Jesus and himself. And he saith, Go ye, and say, “Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another?”9
Conclusion

There are others who held this view, from Origen to Calvin10 and I do believe it makes more sense in light of the passage itself and the testimony of the Gospels as a whole.  It is not unreasonable that John would send his disciples for their own benefit, so they could hear for themselves from the mouth of Christ.  At any rate, John was now in prison, soon to be executed and if John realized that his time on earth was up, it would only make sense that he would want any of his disciples that were still unsure to understand, for certain, that he was not the Christ and Jesus was.  In the next post I’ll start looking into the deeds that Christ gives as testimony of who He is.

  1. Nolland, J. (2005). The Gospel of Matthew: A commentary on the Greek text. New International Greek Testament Commentary (450–451). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.
  2. Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (184–185). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  3. Weber, S. K. (2000). Vol. 1: Matthew. Holman New Testament Commentary (161). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  4. Augustine of Hippo. (1888). Sermons on Selected Lessons of the New Testament (R. G. MacMullen, Trans.). In P. Schaff (Ed.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Volume VI: Saint Augustin: Sermon on the Mount, Harmony of the Gospels, Homilies on the Gospels (P. Schaff, Ed.) (310). New York: Christian Literature Company.
  5. Ibid.
  6. John Chrysostom. (1888). Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople on the Gospel according to St. Matthew (G. Prevost & M. B. Riddle, Trans.). In P. Schaff (Ed.), A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series, Volume X: Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew (P. Schaff, Ed.) (240). New York: Christian Literature Company.
  7. Ibid. (239-240).
  8. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  9. Same as footnote 6, page 239.
  10. Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Matthew (203). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Apr 092013
 
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series The One Who Is To Come

One of the questions often raised by believers and unbelievers alike is how Jesus is predicted in the Old Testament Scriptures.  It is very easy to read through the Old Testament and wonder where the Messiah, or the expectation of the Messiah fits in.  Meanwhile, there is little to no doubt that Jesus came onto the scene and changed the course of history at a time when the Jewish community was eagerly waiting for, and expecting, their redeemer.  So where did this understanding come from?

Part of the problem we run into when investigating these issues is our own mindset.  We bring to the table presuppositions that have been influenced by our own culture and upbringing.  Like it or not, our own thinking often clouds our judgement when it comes to approaching the Scriptures.  We fail to read the Scriptures on it’s own terms and instead insert ours into the mix.  Granted, there are many other factors at stake but it seems reasonable to me that we can hardly start to discuss those factors until we’ve removed some of our own misunderstandings.

One of those misunderstandings is the idea that we should expect our definition of prophecy to be demonstrated when it comes to Christ in the Old Testament.  The western way of defining prophecy is a very strict and narrow view of prediction and fulfillment.  Of course, the Scriptures do indeed demonstrate this in some incredible ways but when the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 40:8 in Hebrews 10:7 he writes “the volume of the book is written of me.”  The Greek word kephalis (κεφαλίς) for volume speaks literally of the roll of a scroll.  It can be understood idiomatically as the entirety of the writing or the whole purpose of the document.  There are varying ideas as to just what document is being referred to but we could safely presume the Torah itself, the first five books of the Bible.  Jesus, after his resurrection, taught from the entire Old Testament “the things concerning himself” in Luke 24:27.

The One Who Is To Come

I note all of this to say that instead of simply looking for Jesus in the Old Testament we might, at times, take a slightly different approach by looking for the Old Testament in Jesus.  What I mean by this is that the Old Testament provides us the means by which we can recognize, or identify Jesus as the true Messiah.  In Matthew 11:2-6 John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to inquire if Jesus is indeed the one who is to come.  Jesus responds by offering his deeds as evidence that he is the Messiah who was promised.  All of these deeds come out of the Old Testament, primarily the book of Isaiah, and had been accomplished by Christ in the previous chapters of Matthew.  The passage 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?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”1

This passage stuck out to me recently as one that is telling of John the Baptist’s humanity while offering an opportunity to dig deep into what the Scriptures have to say about the Messiah.  I thought it would be enjoyable to take each of the items that Jesus gives as identifying characteristics with both their actual fulfillment in Matthews Gospel and the passages alluded to in the Old Testament.

Among Those Born Of Women

In Matthew 11:11 Jesus says of John that of every human being there is none greater.  That is quite a statement and much could be said about it, but for the sake of this initial post I simply want to look at a couple of things that can be offered in regard to John the Baptist and his question.  John had baptized Jesus in Matthew 3:13-17.  In John’s question for Jesus he uses the same term “the one who is to come” (ὁ ἐρχόμενος) that he used in anticipation of Jesus in Matthew 3:11.  This is also the same word used in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament in Psalm 118:26, one of the Psalms of assent sung at Passover where it reads “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!”  John is quite clearly intending the question to refer to the Christ, the Messiah.

John’s expectations of Jesus may very well have been similar to the expectations that everyone else seemed to have.  The Jews were expecting a conquering king, a political figure that would throw the occupiers of first century Israel out and subsequently restore the throne of David.  In Luke 4:18, Jesus is to proclaim liberty to the captives and now the one who baptized Jesus and proclaimed him to be the Messiah is in prison.  Many accuse John of doubt, and in one sense I think they are correct but it may not be the sort of doubt that we tend to think of.  I’m inclined to give John a bit more benefit than that.  His question doesn’t in the least presume that John was doubting the coming Messiah.  John is likely wanting clarification at this point.  His question “are you the one who is to come” doesn’t end there.  The followup “or should we look for another” tells me he never doubted the Scriptures.  In his mind, Jesus wasn’t fitting the expectations that he had.

I really like what Craig Blomberg has to say about this.  He writes:

The flow of thought of [Matthew 11:7–15] may be summarized in this fashion: despite John’s questions, he should not be seen as weak or vacillating. In fact, he is the greatest in a long succession of prophets. But great as he is, something greater is here, namely, Jesus and the kingdom.2
What You Hear And See

Jesus’ response in Matthew 11:4-6 is also telling.  Jesus doesn’t rebuke John.  Nor does Jesus give some simplified answer such as “you just have to have faith” like so many do today.3  Instead, he responds by pointing to his deeds, what they have heard and seen, ultimately letting John put the pieces together.

And as I hope to present, Jesus’ deeds that he answers with are hardly arbitrary.  They fulfill the messianic expectation, the hope, that the Scriptures foretold in numerous ways.  But in order to demonstrate that, we may need to get to know our Old Testament a little bit better.  Hopefully the next few posts will help with that.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  2. Blomberg, C. (1992). Vol. 22: Matthew. The New American Commentary (189). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  3. These same people will often not be able to give an appropriate definition for said faith.  I firmly believe that answers like this should be avoided entirely.  They do nothing more than evade the issues that are being brought up.

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.