Archive for the ‘Biblical Theology’ Category

Isaiah 53

In my earlier post, I spoke about how the Messiah is a saviour – in the sense of dealing with the evil, suffering, injustice and chaos of this world. The King/Son of Man would defeat the enemies of God, who by association are the enemies of God’s people, and bring peace and justice to the whole creation.

This is however only one side of Messiah’s saving work. It’s the side that the disciples (and the Jews) got: they understood Psalm 2 &110. What they didn’t get was Isaiah 53 – or rather that the suffering servant is the Messiah, and that Jesus embodied both. This is why Jesus commended Peter for his confession of him as Christ/Son of God, but rebuked him when Peter refused to accept that the Messiah must die.

Isaiah 53 speaks of another aspect of salvation – from the righteous wrath of God. When we read the OT we cannot avoid the fact that God’s wrath is expressed against those who He calls his own people. Even as God was rescuing them from Egypt and making a covenant with them, calling them His people and He their God, it was made very clear to them that there was still a barrier between Him and them: no-one was allowed to even touch the mountain or they would die; no-one but Moses could enter the tent of meeting; and the priests were required to offer bloody sacrifices to deal with people’s sin. The Israelites were constantly selling themselves out to idolatry and forsaking God, showing that their hearts were far from Him, to the point where in His anger He sent them into exile.

All of these things were signs to Israel (and to us, as we look back) that the ‘physical’ aspects of God’s salvation – Land, offspring, prosperity, kingdom, etc. were only pointers to the heart of salvation – salvation from sin, and form the wrath that sin deserves. The history of God’s anger tells us, among other things, that in order to be truly God’s people, the fact of sin and wrath need to be dealt with.

There would have been no doubt in the Israelite’s mind as they went to the temple of three things:

  1. Sin is serious. The sight of an animal being slaughtered, it’s blood drained, its guts ripped open and its carcass being consumed by fire may sound to us to be macabre, bloody, primitive, crass and obscene; this is because sin is macabre, bloody, primitive, crass and obscene and the sacrifice is an image of what sin both does and deserves.
  2. Sin can only be justly dealt with by death. Because God is Love, He is also just. He demands, in His holy Love, that all offences against Himself and against His creation be punished. The scales of justice must be balanced, or God would not be good.
  3. Therefore the only way that God’s justice be satisfied, and a guilty, vile, wretched sinner such as I be saved, is if a substitute is provided, who pays my own debt and receives the wages of death that I have earned. This is what the sacrificial system pictured: what we call penal substitutionary atonement.

This is why the Messiah had to die, if he were to be truly the saviour. Setting up an earthly kingdom in the place of the Romans would not change a thing – it would just be a repeat of the Old Testament; another loop in the cycle, since the hearts of people would be still the same.

This is why, when Jesus was about to be arrested and crucified, he said, ‘The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified!’ (John 12:23, 13:31).

The glory of Jesus is the glory of the cross – the amazing grace and love demonstrated in his self sacrifice. Has it captivated your heart?

Our culture is full of messianic wistfulness – heroes and antiheroes. Popular culture bears this out. In the last decade, fifty three (American) superhero movies have been released (most based on Marvel or DC comics). In men movies it’s the macho guy who saves the world; in chick flicks it’s the heartthrob who saves the maiden in some way. No matter how democratic we fancy ourselves, we still cheer when a good politician is elected, and complain when a bad one gets in. It is in the human psyche to desire a Messiah; in fact it’s the way we are designed: to rule and be ruled. We are not truly human unless we are depending on God or His Agent for our security, provision and identity.

The Old Testament Jews also had Messianic hopes – not just because of this creational design, but also because of the promises. Across the panorama of the Biblical story is an unfolding, multi-faceted picture of the One in whom the hopes of Israel – and ultimately the Nations – is founded:

  • The seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15 – cf 1 Tim. 2:15) who would crush the serpent’s head;
  • The Prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:14-19) who will lead God’s people into the promised land;
  • The descendant of Abraham (Genesis 12-26) who would bring blessing to all the nations of the earth (the promise repeated, affirmed, clarified at least 16 times in these chapters, and then many times again to Isaac and Jacob after him);
  • The son of David (2 Samuel 7) who would establish the throne forever;
  • The Son-King of Psalm 2 who receives the nations as his inheritance;
  • The Holy One of Psalm 16 who will not see decay or be abandoned to the grave;
  • The Priest-King of Psalm 110 for whom God make his enemies his footstall
  • The Servant of Isaiah (Isaiah 53) who will bring justice by suffering for the sins of the people;
  • The Son of Man of Daniel (Daniel 7) who would establish the victory of God over the raging nations;
  • The Good Shepherd of Psalm 23, Jeremiah (31), Ezekiel (34), Micah (5), Zechariah (13) who will lead and care for His people.

…just to name a few.

All of these pictures make up a composite, a ‘mosaic’ of the Messiah.

Then the man Jesus shows up and embodies all of them in some way in his life and ministry. Some of the images are only first combined in Jesus – eg. the suffering servant and the Son-King at his baptism and transfiguration: ‘This is my Son (Ps 2), with whom I am well pleased’ (Isaiah 53). Different people and groups across Jews and Samaritans were looking for various different figures: Jesus arrives and we see that they are all pointing to Him.

So, how do we speak about Jesus the Messiah (Christ is a title, not a surname)? I wonder how many people, by observing our lives and hearing us speak would conclude that Jesus is our Messiah – not just our ruler, but the One in whom all our hopes, dreams, yearnings and desires find their fulfilment? Would they have a Messianic image? Would they see that He is the one to whom all their superhero-yearnings point?