Monday, October 19, 2009

More about John 12:34

Another scripture source from which the Jews who questioned Jesus misunderstood-but in mostly good faith-what the Messiah would be like is the entire Psalm 110. I leave that for you to read on your own because now you can understand the difference between the description of a human ever living Messiah, as they imagined, and the actual Messiah that God promised who, "Like Melchizedek you are a priest forever." Jesus is the eternal priest and also judge, but in heaven "Who, robed in splendor, judges nations, crushes heads across the wide earth" (Psalm 110:4, 6). From this most of the Jews imagined an actual forever living human being dressed as an awesome king and dispensing justice with God's authority. They were tempted into this imagining by being too tied down by the reality of Roman invasion and rule. Thus they mixed yearning to be free from Rome with then limiting what God's Messiah would be like and would do since they of course imagined his first job would be to defeat the Romans through God's "princely power."

This is again the temptation of the Jews to believe a human forever living Messiah based on Isaiah 9:1-6. Before we discuss it let me explain again why their disbelief is a response to temptation.

Temptation can be understood as not only being urged to do something sinful, wrong and unjust, but to either disbelieve in God or to "cut him down to size." When humans have problems, BIG problems, such as wars, oppression or occupation, they become very subject to temptation to think of God's words as applying narrowly to their current circumstances. They forget that God is on a scale far vaster than they can imagine, and easily sees and prophesies down all the generations of humanity. So it is a temptation to puff up the importance of the calamity that humans are in within one or two generations and assume-or even distort or force-scripture applies to exactly that time, rather than to the ultimate reign of God's Kingdom through all time and circumstances. Thus the Jews were particularly tempted to cut down and minimize the scope of what they imagined the scriptures to be because it resonated with their own daily hopes and wishes. So now read Isaiah 9:1-6, which does indeed describe the Christ, who would be Jesus, but through temptation the Jews came to believe he would be the defeater of the Romans in their time. Notice how the scripture opens with the statement about the light that you read my commentary about, where Jesus very clearly identifies himself. The Jews of the time totally missed that connection because of their blinders due to temptation to look for the Roman defeating human king.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light.
Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing.
As they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as men make merry when dividing spoils.
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
And the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames.
For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast
and forever peaceful,
From David's throne, and over his kingdom,
which he confirms and sustains
By judgment and justice,
both now and forever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this! (Isaiah 9:1-6)

See, if someone is thinking of God's greater plan, which is to bring knowledge of him to not only the Jews but the gentiles, to bring his peace upon the world, and to prepare people for receipt of grace after remission of their sins of unbelief and idolatry, that person can read this passage and have a broader vision of what the Messiah will truly be like. When, however, people are suffering under a specific crisis or oppression, as the Jews were with the Romans, they were too easily tempted to believe that the Messiah would be an earthly king who would kick the Romans out of occupied Palestine/Israel of the day.

Because of the military imagery they also totally missed that the Messiah would be "NOT military." Read that carefully and you will see what I mean. They were tempted into thinking, erroneously, as you carefully read what it says, that "forever peaceful" comes after a great blood letting by the Messiah. That is a total misread that was in their minds during the time of Jesus for three reasons 1) the military imagery made them think that the Messiah would start with military action 2) the rest of chapter 9 discusses specific military campaigns, and so they taint what is in 9:1-6 as also being of a military campaign, kind of the aftermath of bloody battles and 3) they do not understand that the "child is born to us" is one who smashes, rather than imposes, "the yoke," "the pole" and "the rod" on humans. Notice that Jesus explains that his yoke is light, his burden sweet, and there is no mention of the rod with which he will rule (it is only observed in the Final Judgement by the Apostle John who witnesses Jesus in the Book of Revelation during the Apocalypse). In fact, read how Isaiah 11 follows the same tempo where the beginning is clearly about military imagery BUT of the Messiah's bringing of grace, not swordplay.

See, someone reading Isaiah 9 would understand the two different tempos of the prophecy. The first part, Isaiah 9:1-6, is the "someday this will happen" future looking tempo. But then with Isaiah 9:7 you have a brisk "here and now" tempo shift, which is why it opens with "The Lord has sent word against Jacob, it falls upon Israel" (Isaiah 9:7). So God comforts the people with the promise of Isaiah 9:1-6 before lowering the boom on them in the rest of Isaiah 9 that they are going to be punished for their sins (and this description of soon to come righteous wrath continues through Isaiah 10 before the Messiah is prophesied again in Isaiah 11). But remember, people didn't have copies of scripture outside of the temple or the places of scholars AND just as today, people spoke in slogans and sound bytes. So when Jesus actually arrives, the promised Messiah, the people totally missed the checklist of fulfillment of prophecy that Jesus actually delivered.

I hope you have found this helpful and some useful material for further contemplation.

Isaiah 11:9
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord,
as water covers the sea.