Monday, January 28, 2008

Lk 4.18/Is 61.1 -- Proclaiming Liberty to the Exiles

Sort of interesting. Jesus of course quotes Is 61.1-2 in his first sermon in Luke, saying that the prophecy has been fulfilled.

Part of this prophecy is that the one anointed/filled with the Spirit would "proclaim liberty to the captives." Apparently, the Hebrew word translated as "captive" is the same word that can be translated as "exile."

So the centerpiece of Jesus' mission is that he proclaims "liberty to the exiles."

Whether second-temple Israel understood herself as not-yet-fully returned from exile, apparently Jesus understood it. (Although, that those in the synagogue praised Jesus at that point might suggest, a la Wright, that they agreed with the implication that Israel had not yet fully returned from exile.)

Perhaps more pointedly, then, is that when Jesus expands the argument, suggesting that some Gentiles' exile might end while the exile of some Israelites continues, those in the synagogue sought to kill him.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Healing the Blind and Lame after Clearing the Temple

Matthew relates that, immediately after Jesus drove out those who were buying and selling in the temple, as well as the money changers, that "the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them" (Mt 21.14).

So Jesus completely disrupts the daily routine of offerings in the temple. The personnel are cleared out, and animals cannot be sacrificed (because they cannot be purchased), at least for the time being.

That Jesus healed the blind and the lame, however, brings to mind two passages in Leviticus.

In Lev 22.22, the LORD forbids any offering in sacrifice of any creature that is "blind or fractured or maimed." So, too, in the previous chapter, God prohibited the approach of any Aaronic priest who is "a blind man, or a lame man" (21.18).

So Jesus disrupts the regular system of offering in the temple, then heals the lame and the blind, qualifying them, as it were, as both offerors and offerings in the temple.

Perhaps even more pointedly. When Jesus told those he cleared out that they had made the temple a "den of thieves," he is, presumably, invoking Jeremiah 7.11: "'Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it it,' declares the LORD."

The message of the entire chapter in Jeremiah is pregnant with meaning for the Israel of Jesus' day, not least because he will advance basically the same warning to Israel: "Therefore, I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh" (Jer 7.14).

Compare that with, "Behold, your house is being left to you desolate. . . . Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down" (Mt 23.38, 24.2).

So Jesus here rejects the old temple, and the old priesthood, instead qualifying new sacrifices and a new priesthood around himself. Israel can be saved -- indeed, Israel is saved -- but only by recognizing that Jesus is the temple, and that he reconstitutes the priesthood out of the lame and the blind, which is what sin has made of us all.

Pentecost Marks the End of Israel's Exile

In his Pentecost sermon, Peter explains that what Jerusalem witnesses is Jesus "having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit," and so "poured forth this which you both see and hear" (Acts 2.33).

Peter refers to the promise of the Holy Spirit as something that his unbelieving audience knows about. So it seems implausible that Peter's reference to the promise of the Holy Spirit is a reference to the declarations that Jesus made regarding the coming of the Spirit.

I think Peter's argument is even bigger than that. The prophets prophesied not only that the temple would be rebuilt upon Israel's return from exile, but that God's Spirit -- his shekinah glory -- would return to Israel as well (Ez 39.25-29, 37.14, 24-28, 36.16-38, esp. vv. 27, 35, Joel 2.28-29, Is 44.1-5, 32.13-18).

The thing is, we never see God's Spirit indwelling the second temple in the power and glory that he indwelt Solomon's temple. And as long as the Spirit has not returned to the temple in a like (or, actually, in a greater) manner, Israel's exile is not entirely over.

That the Spirit comes as a consequence of Jesus' ascension means that Jesus has ended Israel's exile. God has forgiven Israel in Christ, and so they receive the Spirit with their reconciliation to God (Acts 2.28). This in turn testifies to who Jesus is. That the Spirit has come upon Jesus' disciples as a result of Jesus' ascension means that Israel now knows "for certain" that Jesus is "both Lord and Messiah" (2.36).

The overall movement, then, in the NT is this: the Davidic king comes in Jesus. Jesus then builds the new, intensified temple (the church), whom the Spirit then indwells on Pentecost. Israel awaited the fulfillment of all of this since her exile. So Jesus provides definitive closure for Israel.

The King must depart before the Spirit Comes

Jesus' public life seems to parallel David's life in many ways. Both are anointed by the son of a barren mother (1 Sam 1.5; Lk 1.7, both come in an age of priestly corruption, (1 Sam 2.12-17, 22-25; Lk 20.9-19, 22.2), both are anointed king during the reign of another king, and both have the Spirit descend on them after their anointing (1 Sam 17.12-14; Lk 3.21-22). Both defeat Israel's enemy (1 Sam 17.49, Gn 3.15, Mt 12.28, & etc.), the existing king persecutes both of them, (1 Sam 19.1, Mt 2.13, 27.11-12, 37, 63-65), and they both feed Israel, (2 Sam 6.18-19; Mt 14.17-21 & etc.).

There are other parallels as well. I wondered about this one last weekend: both must go away before the Spirit comes in power. In the OT, the completion of the temple brings the Spirit (2 Chr 5.13-6.1, 7.1-3). So God's decision to forbid David from constructing the temple (1 Ch 17.4, 11-12) effectively means that David must disappear from the scene before the Spirit comes to dwell in the temple.

And, of course, Jesus points out that he must go away in order for the Spirit to come (Jn 16.7).

So I wonder if the King must go before the Spirit comes.

Still, the "mutatis mutandis" seem a bit steep for this parallel. God forbids David from building the temple because he is a man of blood rather than a man of rest (as Solomon would be). And, of course, Jesus is the greater Solomon as well as the greater David. Further, Jesus says that he'll send the Spirit as a result of his departure, something not implied at all regarding David.

Still, there seems the hint of a wistful "feel" on my part. Sure, I want the Spirit to come -- the scenes in 2 Chronicles and in Acts when the Spirit comes in power are among the most powerful in the whole of the Scriptures. Yet I want, as it were, to experience these events with David and Jesus' presence, not without them. (Also coming to mind in this regard is Moses' departure from Israel prior to entering the promised land.)

Of course, even the wistful lament will pass away when Jesus returns; we will then enjoy the blessing of the Spirit and Jesus' visible presence.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A thought on John 18.28

"Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover" (Jn 18.28).

When I've heard this mentioned (not all that often, to be sure), it's usually mentioned as an example of "legalism," in the sense of practicing something not commanded by God.

But it dawned on me at one point that it's not necessarily as simple as that. After all, Nm 19.14 provides that anybody who entered a tent in which a person died would be unclean for seven days. Now, assuming that the command applies to all dwelling places, and not just tents, then it's possible that we have an explanation for why the Jewish leaders did not want to enter the Praetorium:

It's always possible that someone had pass away in a Gentile dwelling place. Almost by definition, if that had actually happened, the dwelling would not have been cleansed as specified by Nm 18.18. So according to Moses' law, those entering a dwelling might contract ritual impurity, and thus might participate in the Passover while unclean.

That much I hypothesized (which means I didn't have a clue as to whether that was the real reason the Jewish leaders would not enter in).

Conveniently for my hypothesis, however, a year or two later I ran across this brief comment in N.T. Wright's The New Testament and the People of God discussing the "rabbinic dictum that Gentiles' houses are unclean" because the presumed Gentiles "throw miscarriages or deliberate abortions down the drain" (p. 240).

This seems to me to be an appeal to Nm 19. Miscarriages, after all, are not sinful. What connects miscarraiges and abortions in terms of Mosaic impurity laws is not their sinfulness, but that a dead body is present in the house.

So there is a bit of evidence consistent with my hypothesis.

So perhaps the Jewish leaders followed what they considered an implication of Mosaic law, i.e., "avoid the risk of ritual impurity by staying out of Gentile dwellings unless absolutely necessary.

Just a thought.