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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Book Review: Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament

Wright, Christopher J. W. Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992. 256 pp, $16.00.

One of my favorite teachers I had the honor of sitting under during my years at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was Dr. Daniel Block. It was under his teaching that my appreciation for and knowledge of the Old Testament grew in leaps and bounds. It was under Block’s teaching from the three courses I sat under him that I began for the first time to really see the Scriptures as a grand narrative of God’s salvific actions to redeem his creation.

It was also through his recommendation that I became acquainted with the book Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament. Dr. Block highly advised all his students to read this selection in order to understand Jesus in light of the Old Testament. I recently purchased and finally read this book which he so highly recommended and it did not disappoint.

Wright starts his book out in the Gospel of Matthew and notes how for many Christians, the beginning of understanding Jesus starts at Matthew 1:18. Yet what is missed in the previous verses of Matthew 1:1-17 is the Old Testament roots of Jesus. Jesus was a descendant of Abraham, the same Abraham through whom God promised to bring blessing to all peoples and nations. It is in Jesus that the Old Testament promises find their fulfillment. Or as Wright says, “The Old Testament tells the story which Jesus completes (p 2).

Jesus is also a new beginning. As Wright notes, Matthew’s gospel begins literally, ‘An account of the genesis of Jesus the Messiah…’ For any Jew, this would have caused them to recall the words of Genesis 2:4 and 5:1 (p 7). Just as we find a new work in the Book of Genesis, we find a new work of God in the Book of Matthew.

Wright says that Matthew 1:1-17 really tells us through a genealogy the long history of God and his people, Israel. The names point us to the call of Abraham, the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, the covenant made at Mt. Sinai, the inheritance of the Promised Land, the kingship of David, the splitting of the kingdoms, the unrest of Israel through evil kings, the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of God’s people into captivity, the restoration of Israel, and up to the time to the birth of Jesus.

In chapter 2, Wright details how five events in the life of Jesus as a baby and child reveal fulfillments of Old Testament promises:

1. The son conceived in Mary was a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, where a virgin shall conceive a child.

2. The birth of Jesus in Bethlehem fulfilled Micah 5:2, where a ruler is prophesied to be born for Israel.

3. Jesus’ escape to and then return from Egypt fulfilled Hosea 11:1, where it is said, “Out of Egypt I have called my Son.”

4. The murder by Herod of the young boys in Bethlehem fulfills Jeremiah 31:15.

5. The fifth fulfillment is a bit more difficult to detail as Wright acknowledges, but he points to Jesus settlement in Nazareth as a fulfillment of the prophets.

The particular stories that are detailed about Jesus’ early life are given to us with the purpose of helping us understand how the Old Testament was preparing and leading to the birth and mission of this man named Jesus.

Additionally much of the chapter is spent on commenting on the nature of God’s promises and covenants, and their implications. For example, when Wright talks about the implications of being in Christ as it relates to the promise made to Abraham he writes:

To be ‘in Christ’ was to be ‘in Abraham’, and therefore to share in the inheritance of God’s people. And that inheritance now far transcended the national territory, and included rather all the blessings and responsibilities of the fellowship of God’s people. He was the Passover lamb protecting God’s people from his wrath. His death and resurrection had achieved a new exodus. He was the mediator of a new covenant. His sacrificial death and risen life fulfilled and surpassed all that were signified in the tabernacle, the sacrifices and the priesthood. He was the temple not made with hands, indeed he was Mount Zion itself, as the focus of the name and presence of God. He was the son of David, but his Messianic kingship was concealed behind the basin and towel of servanthood and the necessity of obedience unto death (pp 74-75).

Chapter three focuses on the identity of Jesus in light of the Old Testament. Wright argues that Jesus partly understand his own mission as the Son of God from three Old Testament “son” texts, Psalm 2:7, Isaiah 42:1, and Genesis 22:2.

1. From Psalm 2, Jesus is identified as the Son of David and as King is the authoritative spokesman for all Israel.

2. From Isaiah 42:1, Jesus understands himself as a servant son. This Davidic, Kingly Son would serve his people even unto death as the Servant Songs of Isaiah teach us. The servant would suffer so that we his people might be healed.

3. From Genesis 22:2, Jesus sees himself as the beloved only son of God like Isaac unto Abraham. Yet in stark contrast, Isaac was spared, Jesus will not be.

Wright additionally launches into a major section on viewing the New Testament fulfillments of Old Testaments texts through typology. Here he makes 6 points about typology (pp 110-16). This discussion will definitely help many in the church who have a difficult time understanding in what sense many NT events are fulfillments of OT events, as we typically think of fulfillment as being only fulfillments of specific predictions.

Chapter four is largely spent surveying the mission of Jesus as the Messiah. Wright covers common Jewish expectations. But the large portion of this section is spent surveying the Servant Songs in Isaiah. In the songs, Wright says we find the Messiah’s mission to Israel, but also to the Gentiles. For example the Lord says in Isaiah 49:5-6,

And now says the Lord, who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, so that Israel might be gathered to Him (For I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and My God is My strength), he says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel;I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

Wright concludes this chapter by addressing what implications Jesus’ own mission has for understanding our own present mission as God’s people. Wright concludes, “Mission lies at the very heart of all God’s historical action in the Bible. Mission to his fallen, suffering, sinful human creation, and indeed ultimately to his whole creation as well. That is why he called Abraham, sent Jesus, and commissioned his apostles. For there is one servant people, one Servant King, one servant mission (p 175).”

In the closing chapter, Wright looks at the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness by Satan. Wright notes that Jesus’ rebuttals to Satan all come from the early parts of Deuteronomy, so Wright looks to Deuteronomy 4-11 as an instructive paradigm for living before God as his people. This leads into a proper understanding of the place of the law in the life of God’s people. Wright’s major point here is that law is always a response to salvation and then he lists four major reasons or motivations for Godliness.

This last chapter is filled with helpful teaching on how to grasp the way in which we are called to live as the people of God, where to place our priorities in light of the way Jesus prioritized his values. Perhaps one of the most helpful summarizations Wright leaves us with in closing about living for Jesus comes on pages 247-8 and this is where the review will end as well. Wrights says:

To enter the Kingdom of God means to submit oneself to the rule of God and that means a fundamental reorientation of one’s ethical commitments and values into line with the priorities and character of the God revealed in the scriptures. The point of being Israel and living as the people of Yahweh was to make the universal reign of God local and visible in their whole structure of religious, social, economic and political life. They were to manifest in practical reality what it meant to live as well as sing, ‘the LORD reigns’.

Can there be any doubt that this statement should also be true of the church of God which has been grafted into Israel through Jesus Christ? Should not our goal be also to be the visible and local manifestation of God’s reign here on earth?

I would recommend this book to both pastors and church members. Wright’s style is easy to take in. He thoroughly explains larger theological terms. The book does not have footnotes that distract the common reader. I would use this book as the answer to someone’s desire to learn about how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament and more importantly, to Jesus.

1 comment:

OTGuy said...

Good review Jason... Note any students thinking to plagiarize this review, it is detectable by most teachers.