Christopher Wright, an Old Testament scholar and author, has written an excellent book studying Jesus as found in the Old Testament. Here an overview will be presented of each chapter in the book:
Jesus and the Old Testament Story
Jesus cannot be fully understood through the New Testament alone, and the Old Testament cannot be fully understood without Christ. This is Wright's basic message about the Old Testament in his first chapter, stating that “it is the story from which he acquired his identity and mission” and “it is also the the story to which he gave significance and authority” (Wright, 27). Thus, in order to show that the Old Testament is necessary to understand that the mission given to the Jews was given to and completed by Christ, Wright demonstrates Christ's Jewishness, Humanity, and Messiahship. A quick historical summary of the Old Testament is then given in three major divisions derived from the introductory genealogy of Matthew's gospel: from Abraham to David, from David to the Exile, and the Exile to the Messiah. The purpose for this historical review is to discredit some Christian views that the Old Testament is either irrelevant to the modern Christian (a shadow of the spiritual truths that we now hold) or is merely “...a promise box full of blessed predictions about Jesus” (Wright, 27). Instead, Christians should see the Old Testament as a crucial element in their understanding of Christ and subsequently to Christianity. To do so Wright reveals that the Old Testament “...is primarily a story – the story of the acts of God in human history out of which those promises arose and in relation to which only they make sense” (Wright, 27). Thus, the Old and New Testament form the historical record of God's salvation for humanity. This interconnectedness proves that other universalism approaches which strive to insert Christ into all religions are untenable and unnecessary. They are untenable because of Israel's unique election, and they are unnecessary due to the purpose for Israel's election: the universal salvation of all peoples. Israel's unique role in history is thus not a show of favoritism, but a commission to missions and moral responsibility (Wright, 41). Here the complementary nature of the two testaments is seen more clearly, where paradoxically the way to God's universal redeeming grace to all nations came through the narrowing down of one nation to one man, Jesus Christ.
Jesus and the Old Testament Promise
The New Testament authors clearly saw Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Promise. For this very reason Matthew explicitly uses Old Testament references to claim Christ as the Messiah However, Matthew does not utilize the most popular Messianic prophecies throughout Christ's childhood and life to prove that Jesus is the completion the Old Testament to do so. Instead, Matthew calls upon stories and verses that aren't even predictions (except Micah 5:2) when there were better texts he could have used to make his point. This fact only lends credibility to the historical accuracy of his account and also shows how history fulfilled Old Testament scriptures in ways beyond the obvious. Wright also points out that Jesus related to the Old Testament geographically and historically. Christ's ministry covered the ancient Israeli territory, especially key locations of David's Kingdom. Jesus' genealogy even shows him as the descendant of David and Abraham, as predicted of the promised Messiah. Jesus also literally relives or reenacts the key events of Israel's history, such as living in the desert for 40 days as Israel lived in the dessert for 40 years during the exodus, but where Israel failed, Jesus succeeded in overcoming the trials and temptations. Wright also makes a key distinction between prediction and promise, that a promise involves commitment to a relationship. Hence, a promise must be made to someone, whereas a prediction can simply be about someone with no actual interaction. As a result, a promise requires a response of acceptance or participation by the recipient, such as faith. Wright also notes that a promise can involve multiple levels of fulfillment since it is dictated by the relationship not the literal promise itself (i.e. a promised horse is not negated if a car is given instead, since the promise of mobility is granted, in fact exceeded, even though no horse was given). Wright concludes by summarizing the Noachic, Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants of the Old Testament to show how God works to fulfill and exceed his promise. He outlines three key aspects of a Biblical Covenant: God initiates, God dictates the stipulations, and God expects human response.
Jesus and his Old Testament Identity
The question throughout the New Testament, even from the lips of the disciples, is who is this man Jesus? Wright analyzes Jesus' identity from the perspective of the Old Testament, claiming that “it was the Old Testament which helped Jesus to understand Jesus” (Wright, 108). Thus, the identity of Jesus is unpacked from God's declaration about Jesus' at his baptism, “this is my son, whom I love, and the one in whom I delight” (Matthew 3:17). This composite statement draws from Psalm 25:7, Isaiah 42:1, and Genesis 22:2, verses Jesus would have known well. Wright then explains the typology hermeneutic often used in New Testament studies which has been used both correctly in analyzing analogies and historical themes in the Old Testament, and incorrectly in reducing Old Testament texts to prefiguring and foreshadowing of Christ and the Church. The relationship with God that Jesus experienced is then depicted as one “...of such personal intimacy and dependence, that only the language of Father and Son could describe it” (Wright, 117). In addition to this, Jesus is seen as fulfilling the sonship role of Israel, which is also depicted as the son of God (a term which has a wide range of use in the Old Testament (Wright, 118)). Fatherhood in Israel is then discussed to better understand the cultural meaning of God's fatherly attitude towards Israel and the subsequent fatherly expectations God has for the nation. This Father-Son relationship also helps explain the role of the Covenants as they pertain to both national and individual ethical responsibility. Once this understanding of national sonship is established, Wright reveals how it ties into God's universal mission of salvation. For “the expression first-born son implies the existence or the expectation of others sons” (Wright, 130). Here a missionary idea of sonship emerges since possibility of other nations becoming “sons of God” hinges on Israel's fulfillment of her own sonship to God. Thus, when Israel was unable to fulfill the ethical obedience God required “...the obedience of Jesus as Son of God opened the way for the fulfillment of God's universal purpose for all humanity” (Wright, 132).
Jesus and his Old Testament Mission
Jesus had a missional mindset. In the words of Wright, “To do his Father's will was his very meat and drink (John 4:34)” (Wright, 136), but to understand what that mission was the Old Testament and the Jews understanding of it must be taken into consideration. First, it is crucial to know what the Intertestamental period Jews believed their mission was described in the Scriptures. They primarily saw it as restoring Israel to a Davidic Kingdom free from oppressors once their judgment or purging at the hands of God for their disobedience was complete. Then, once this was accomplished, nations would be judged and purged before being included as well (Wright, 138). This was very much the view when John the Baptist came on the scene who saw his own mission as identifying, “through his call for repentance and baptism, the remnant of Israel who, by responding were destined for cleansing and restoration as the true eschatological people of God” (Wright, 141). By endorsing John's mission of preparation, Jesus saw His role as accomplishing it. Jesus understood His mission through what the Old Testament says about the Messiah (a term little used itself); however, He was often reticent about it, instead preferring terms like “son of man” (taken from Daniel 7:14-18) and “servant” (taken from Isaiah 42, 49, 53, 61). He chose these terms because “if Jesus really were the Messiah, then his Jewish contemporaries knew exactly what they expected of him. The trouble was that what they expected and what Jesus intended did not match” (Wright, 146). Despite these expectations, Jesus still met Old Testament meanings as a God-Man/Israel who was Servant to Israel first and then the nations. The Apostles assumed this Israel first mentality continued in the Great Commission, not understanding the “both/and,” that the nations could come in at the same time as Israel. In continuing the Great Commission, the Church today should operate under Christ's (and subsequently Paul's) understanding of the Servant mentality toward missions as a wholesome approach purposefully reaching to the Jew first (Wright, 175) and then all nations in unity and humility.
Jesus and his Old Testament Values
Wright illustrates that throughout Christ's ministry, His ethic was developed from and reinforced by the Old Testament. However, Christ's values differed from many of His Jewish contemporaries because He understood the true perspective and the essential point of the Law. Thus, Christ revealed that “you either love God or you hate him (7:9-10). Any other way of life is to hate him. Indifference is practical hatred” and so the outcome is that human decision reveals our relationship with God (Wright, 189). Simple obedience became the main thrust of Jesus' ministry which Matthew sums up in four phrases: “the time is fulfilled; the kingdom of God is at hand; repent; and believe the good news” (Wright, 190). This came from Jesus' understanding that through our gratitude for God's work to reach and save us Man ought to be more like God than Man. For Jesus this meant following the Law, which He summarized in the two Greatest Commandments: the Shema and the love ethic. These put His values in three ordered categories: “God comes first,” “Persons matter more than things,” and “Needs matter more than rights” (Wright, 210-213). Wright then switches gears to show how Jesus was similar to the prophets, for indeed, most of the crowds thought that He was a prophet because He spoke out against three common topics for prophets: putting God first spiritually, Israel's economic issues, and the role of politics among God's people. Wright spends a large amount of time unpacking the economic issues of Jesus' day to show that Jesus' kingdom announcement “used jubilary imagery to characterize its demands” (Wright, 229) then using several parables (wicked tenants, unjust steward, and Lord's prayer) to unpack this thought. Wright also shows the similarities between Jesus and Jeremiah who suffered because he spoke out against the government and the Temple. For Jesus this was because the Temple “had become the symbol of an Israel at odds with the world, rather than an Israel for the nations. It had become a perversion of the very mission of Israel itself” (Wright, 239). Wright ends with the Psalms impact on Jesus and how they guided Jesus' central topic – The Kingdom of God.
Brett Yardley: Warrior for Christ. Devoted Husband. Proud Father. Martial Artist. Hopeful Philosopher & Theologian. Aspiring Teacher & Writer.