Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Matthew's Christology.

Another excerpt from my book.

Matthew’s Gospel[1] begins by telling us about Jesus’ human and divine identity. His divine identity is revealed in that he is to be named “Jesus” meaning “God is our salvation”[2] for (Matthew tells us) he “will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). This fulfills the prophecy that a virgin will conceive and give birth to Immanuel, “God with us” (1:23). Throughout the Gospel, Jesus reveals himself as the true savior God of Israel in five separate theophanies. First, in chapter 5, he promulgates the Word of God on a mountain (5:1). Moses came down from the mountain and gave the Torah after speaking with God on top of it, Jesus stands on top of the mountain and directly promulgates the Word of God to the people as God himself. In chapter 17, Jesus is transfigured, which as we have previously noted, must necessarily represent a theophany in light of the fact that (as Donald Juel noted) he appears with two figures who encountered God on top of a mountain in the Old Testament. Jesus’ luminosity is particularly suggestive of the glory of the Lord which Moses gained a partial vision of. The admonition of God in the cloud to “Listen to him” (Mt 17:5) is reminiscent of Elijah’s theophany (the other figure with Jesus) which occurring through the divine Word (1 Kgs 19:12-3). The third theophany occurs as Jesus stands on the Mount of Olives, where we are told that God’s glory rested when it left the Temple in Ezekiel 11:23 and where Zechariah tells us that God will stand before the final battle which will destroy Jerusalem (Zech 14:4). Jesus in this discourse describes the destruction of Jerusalem. He ends the discourse by saying “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Mt. 24:35) an echo of Isaiah 40:8: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever.” The fourth theophany is when Jesus is taken out of the city and crucified on the hill of Golgotha. The darkness and earthquakes that accompany his death are direct parallels with Amos 8:9 description of the Day of the Lord, that is, God’s own epiphany in judgment. The last theophany is on a mountain of Galilee after the resurrection, when Jesus commissions the disciples as they “worship” (prosekunhsan) him (28:17). In this scene, Jesus states that “All authority in heaven and on earth have been given to me” (v. 18). This means that Jesus transcends merely human dominion on the earth (Genesis 1:28), and possesses all authority in heaven as well, which is according to his earlier statement is “God’s throne.” (Mt 5:35).
From this pattern, the question arises: why five theophanies? To begin to answer the question, we might also note that Matthew’s Gospel also contains five great discourses (5:3-7:27, 10:5-42, 13:3-52, 18:2-35, 23:2-25:46).[3] Dale Allison has noted Jesus’ typological description as Moses in Matthew.[4] This strongly suggests that Jesus’ five great discourses represent the giving of a new Torah. N. T. Wright has noted that in Second Temple Judaism that the Torah as the living Word of God stood as a means of entering God’s presence equal with God’s glory in the Temple.[5] To study Torah, was then to be in God’s presence. If this is the case, the pattern of Matthew’s Gospel portrays Jesus as the living Word of God come in person. He is also a new Moses. Nevertheless, he is not one who merely speaks with God face to face and reports his Word, but is in fact God himself speaking his own Word. Gerhard Barth agrees remarking: “The presence of Jesus in [Matthew’s] the congregation is here described as analogous to the presence of the Shekinah [kavod] . . . the place of Torah is taken by . . . Jesus; the place of the Shekinah by Jesus himself.”[6] In this regard, the final rejection of the crowd of Jesus and their acceptance of Barabbas becomes more interesting than typical treatments of the scene will allow. Jesus is now not just one of the prophets who possesses the Word of God and bears the rejection of the people (as all the prophets had). As the parable of the vineyard indicates (21:33-40), Jesus is the culmination of the rejection of prophetic mediation, in that in rejecting him, they reject the living Word of God come in person. Again, much like the golden calf, such rejection seeks alternative false mediation in the form of Barabbas. As a revolutionary, Barabbas also claims to be one who can bring the kingdom of heaven, the content of Jesus’ ministry of law and promise.
As a human being, Jesus is a descendent of Abraham and of David (1:17).[7] He is therefore not only the true Davidic Messiah, but also the true recapitulator of Israel. This is shown by the fact that his ministry and life go through the stages of Israel’s history. During Jesus’ flight to Egypt, Matthew cites Hosea 11:1 “Out of Egypt I called my Son” (2:15). The passage in its original context directly describes Israel. But if Jesus is the true Israel, his own flight to Egypt makes him the recapitulator of Israel as the true fulfiller of its vocation. Similarly, Austin Farrer has shown in his book, The Triple Victory[8] Jesus’ temptations after being cast into the desert directly correspond with Israel’s temptations in the wilderness. Jesus goes so far as to cite the verses that accompanied each act of apostasy by Israel in the wilderness culminating in his rejection of the Devil’s insistence on receiving divine worship. Here Jesus overcomes where Israel fell to the temptation of worshiping the golden calf.[9] With regard to the other stages, his ministry represents then a conquest of the land, this time from the power of the Devil by his exorcisms, healing and forgiveness of sins. As Ernst Hegstenberg[10] notes, he claims the he himself is the Angel of YHWH who participated in the original conquest of the land by claiming that he is the commander of God's heavenly armies (26:53), thereby echoing Joshua 5. He finally is rejected like the prophets and suffers death on the cross as a sign of Israel’s continuing exile. In this, he is the true king who bears, like his ancestor Josiah, the sins of his people. His resurrection then becomes an end of cosmic exile, which is also shared by the people of God whom he died to redeem.


  1. When is this book supposed to be published? This (and the last post) is great stuff.

  2. When I'm finished with the manuscript and when I find a publisher. I'm about half way through. Hopefully I can finish by early summer. Thanks for the interest.