Jesus and the Temple Sermon Manuscript

If you remember last week, I looked back at verse 1 where John uses the phrase “in the beginning.” John is clearly calling to mind the symbols and events of Genesis as he tells his own creation narrative. One of the things that I said was John was telling the story of the new creation, the recreation, of the world through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

I believe that John intends his readers to follow a sequence of seven signs, with the water-into-wine story at Cana as the first and the crucifixion as the seventh. This number seven is actually found, guess where, in Genesis one; suggesting that John has selected these 7 signs to draw out and delineate how Israel’s God, through the Messiah, as set in motion the recreation of the entire cosmos.

On Friday, the sixth day of the week, Jesus stands before Pilate of says “Behold the man.” (John 19:5). Jesus, on the cross, says “it is finished.” Hearkening back to God’s statements of completion in Genesis 1. This finishing was followed by a sabbath, a day of rest. Which is what we find in John 19.

There follows, as in Genesis, a day of rest, a sabbath day (19:31: 31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.)

Big Point: Jesus’ public career is to be understood as the completion of the original creation, with the resurrection as the start of the new. The whole gospel is a kind of preparation for Easter, with signs of resurrection to be expected at several points.

The first of the signs, indeed, carries its own hint: the wedding at Cana took place ‘on the third day’. The response of Jesus in the temple was that he would raise the temple on the “third day.”

So, last time I went over many of the ways in which Jesus, sums of the long story of Israel in himself, he embodies Israel, and the story of Israel is retold around him. Just as a way of reminder Matt: 2:15, Hosea 11:1.

So, before we can jump into our text and explore what is precisely going on, we need to stop and consider the function and importance of the temple: two quick points:
First, the Temple was regarded as the dwelling-place of Israel’s covenant god:
Quote: The Temple in conception was a dwelling place on earth for the deity of ancient Israel … The symbolic nature of the Jerusalem Temple … depended upon a series of features that, taken together, established the sacred precinct as being located at the cosmic center of the universe, at the place where heaven and earth converge and thus from where God’s control over the universe is effected.

Quote: Second, the Temple was of course the place of sacrifice. It was the place where forgiveness of sins on the one hand, and cleansing from defilement on the other, were believed to be effected. This can be seen dramatically in descriptions of what happened when the sacrificial system came to an end in ad 70:
The destruction of the Temple in 70 a.d. made an end of the whole system of sacrificial expiation, public and private, the scapegoat of the Day of Atonement. The loss was keenly felt…

So, let us take a look at John 2:13-22.

Ok, there are several things going on, and to draw them out, we need to travel around the gospels a bit to see some of the things Jesus says about the temple. Luke 19; Matt 24.

Luke 19: The gospel of Luke has an interesting section in chapter 19. In verses 41-44 Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and pronounces judgement on her, and the temple (same as Matt. 24 but much shorter). Immediately after in 45-48 Jesus cleanses the temple. There can be no doubt that the cleansing of the temple and the pronouncement of judgement in the preceding verse are inseparably linked to one another. I think Jesus is acting out the judgement that is to come; and expressing his disapproval at what the temple had become. Many people see this action, and Jesus’s statements about the temple, whether they were misunderstood or not, as the primary factors that led to his crucifixion. Notably, this is what is brought up at Jesus’s trial; and also, when people are preaching the gospel in Acts 6, Jesus is portrayed as the one who talked about the temple being destroyed. Luke 19:48 is followed immediately by the chief priests and scribes coming to him and challenging his authority to cleanse the temple. This was extremely offensive to them. Jesus’s response is “by what authority does John the Baptist baptize?” John the Baptist was claiming that God’s people were not recognized by their temple or torah observance, not at this critical time; no, instead, they are going to be recognized by repenting and being baptized for the forgiveness of sins in preparation for their Messiah.

Matthew 24: Jesus’s disciples ask him when the temple will be destroyed, and his reply is that “this generation” (24:34) will not pass until all that Jesus had predicted came to pass. Within a generation (app. 40 years) the temple was destroyed by Rome. Jesus, here in Matt. 24, connects “the sign of his coming” with the destruction of the temple. The coming of the Son of man is a clear allusion to Daniel 7; which speaks of the vindication of the Son of Man. In good apocalyptic style, all sorts of imagery is used by Jesus to invest these future historic events with theological significance. If we accept that the conversation is centered around the “sign of Jesus’s coming” and the “time of the temple’s destruction,” then we are in a pretty safe place to understand that Jesus is explicitly putting the sign of his coming (Gr. erchomenon) together with to the fate of the temple; so that, if the fate of the temple turns out to be what Jesus said it would be, then Jesus will be vindicated in his ministry and prophetic role. In support of this: the words “this generation” refer to the current contemporary generation in every other instance that it is used; it always refers to the people who are living at that time. Jesus says that everything that he had predicted before 24:34 would happen in “this generation.”

What is very important to note here is that Jesus associates his vindication as the Son of Man, the vindication that that he did what God expected of him, via the destruction of Jerusalem. So when the temple was destroyed, this was God’s stamping again (after his resurrection) his approval on everything that Jesus had been claiming about his own life and ministry in relation to his critique of the temple.

So, Jesus is not merely setting out to clean up the temple, and rearrange a few ornaments: he intends to symbolize the imminent destruction of the Temple sharply and physically through his actions. So he was enacting God’s judgment on the temple so that when it was destroyed, his actions would be vindicated as in line with God’s desire to see the temple destroyed.

So what is the point of all of this: God People are being “REDEFINED.” HANDOUT.

What is the arch composed of before Christ, in the Old Testament: 1. Circumcision, 2. Dietary Laws, 3. Temple Observance. These are the things that mark out who is numbered among the covenant people of God. Within the covenant people of God you have both: those who are Not Truly Saved (NTS); and those who are Truly Saved (TS).

If a husband gets married to a woman, with the intention of committing adultery the day after the marriage; is the marriage a real covenant? YES! Or else, adultery would no longer be adultery. The question guy who gets married has to answer is whether he was and will be sincere in his marriage vows; or if he will be insincere and be a covenant breaker; either way he is in the covenant. This same reality is seen in the Old Testament. “They praise [God] with their lips, but their hearts are far from [Him].” They were circumcised, and they were following the dietary laws; this does mark them out as being “in the covenant;” it does not mean that they are necessarily truly saved.

Jesus, thus, is coming in and redrawing these covenant boundaries around himself instead of circumcision, dietary laws, and temple observance. The people of God are being redefined around their faith in and allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth. Now, those who confess faith in and allegiance to Christ and his authority via baptism initially, are marked out as “in the covenant”; as the person who goes through the ritual of marriage is now married; the question remains however if the person is sincere or not; either way, the person is “in the covenant.”

This will go a LONG way in recounting the hottest dispute in the early church. In Acts 10, and 15 along with much of Paul’s writings; one of the recurring themes is the teaching that the Gentiles are not under any obligation to undergo circumcision, or follow the dietary laws, or go to the temple; because they have received God’s Spirit as full participants in the new REDEFINED people of God by faith in Jesus the Messiah alone (of course this faith is expressed in every individual through baptism, and subsequent surrender of the ‘yoke’ and teachings to Christ).

So: what were the Jews so angry about in the early church: well, Jewish Christians, especially Paul, were claiming that circumcision (for example) was ok for Jews to do, but it emphatically no longer counted for anything (1 Cor. 7:19) because God’s people have been redefined around Jesus and no longer around torah-observance.

What is the point? The Covenant People of God: RE-EMPOWERED and REGENERATED as agents of RENEWAL for the sake of the whole cosmos; the renewal of all of creation.

God is creating a new humanity in and around the Messiah of Israel, Jesus of Nazareth, the only begotten Son of God. God in Christ has so redefined who his covenant people are in the Messiah that now Gentiles have found themselves in the family of Abraham (Gal. 3); in that single family through which God has always intended to bring salvation and renewal to the whole world.

The first day of the week a strange event had happened as this prostitute went to the tomb where Christ was buried. Many people, in order to deal with the fact of the empty tomb in history have formulated hypotheses that claim that the authors of these 4 gospels in our bibles were fabrications that were made up to make people believe that Jesus rose from the dead even though he didn’t. The major problem here is this: in the first century, and on for quite a while, the testimony of a women as an eyewitness was inadmissible in court and general opinion. If someone were trying to fabricate a story to get thousands of people to believe, what is otherwise a hard to believe story; the very last thing they would do is have a woman, prostitute to boot, as the first eyewitness of the risen Christ. This hypothesis fails.

Mary was the first to see the firstborn of the new creation; the risen Christ. What she saw was striking. Jesus’s body was like, and not like our own. He said to the woman “don’t touch me” because he had not yet ascended. But, to Thomas, he said “touch me.” He walked on the road to Emmaus and no one recognized him; yet he bore the scares by which he can be identified. He moves in and out of locked rooms, appears and vanishes; and yet, he is sitting by a fire eating fish with his disciples.

See many people think the goal of creation is for everyone to go to heaven. The fact is however, that the goal is for heaven to come here to earth, and for their to be a union of the two. Jesus’s body existed in both the heavenly and earthly realm at the same time. The world that God’s people will inhabit will be world in which God’s dimension and our earthly dimension are one. [In that world we will judge angels Paul says, this is because they are merely spiritual beings, and we will be both heavenly and earthly.]

Conclusion: God is creating a new humanity. These new humans and they only will inhabit God’s new world. Jesus is the first new human; and he has given us the Spirit of the age to come and so connected us to the source of this resurrection life. We are called now to live out the new humanity, the new ethics of the age to come. Why should I not have lustful thoughts in my mind? Because, God is creating in me a new humanity, a new way of being human, and by his Spirit, I am to be an agent of renewal in this world; living out now, the way of life that will characterize the world to come. God is at work recreating the world, and I am to be the sort of human that will inhabit this new world; indeed, the church is God’s agent within which God will bring this renewal. If anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW CREATION. We are the new temples. We are the place where God will deal with the sins of the world, we are the carriers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which alone contains the renewing power necessary to accomplish God’s purpose. We alone are the place where God’s presence flows into the world. If God’s will is going to be done on earth as it is in heaven it will be through the New Temple: the Body of Christ: The Spirit filled Church who proclaims and embodies the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Healing, forgiveness, renewal, the twelve, the new family and its new defining characteristics, open commensality, the promise of blessing for the Gentiles, feasts replacing fasts, the destruction and rebuilding of the Temple: all declared, in the powerful language of symbol, that Israel’s exile was over, that Jesus was himself in some way responsible for this new state of affairs, and that all that the Temple had stood for was now available through Jesus and his movement. It is not surprising, therefore, that when Jesus came to Jerusalem the place was, so to speak, NOT big enough for both him and the Temple together. The claim which had been central to his work in Galilee was that Israel’s god was now active, through him, to confront evil and so to bring about the real return from exile, the restoration for which Israel had longed; and that Israel’s god himself was now returning to Zion in judgment and mercy. The house built on sand, however—the present Temple and all that went with it, and all the hopes of national security which clustered, as in Jeremiah’s day, around it—would fall with a great crash. And on the other side: New Creation would come walking out, leaving behind an empty tomb, and so inaugurating a new people, who by His Spirit, God will reconcile peoples from all nations to himself, and finally raise us all with resurrection bodies in the new heavens and earth. The question for us: will we live out the new humanity that has been redefined around Jesus?

The story of Israel: RETOLD
The people of God: REDEFINED
The Presence of God in the world: REINTERPRETED
The Covenant People of God: RE-EMPOWERED and REGENERATED as agents of RENEWAL for the sake of the whole cosmos; the restoration of all of creation.

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Does the Church Replace Israel?

Jesus Christ, in himself, sums up all that Israel was meant to be because “Christos” (the Greek word for Christ) is Israel’s representative.When Paul uses the word “Christos” he intends for that word to carry a incorporative and representational connotation. As Wright says, “Because the Messiah represents Israel, he is able to take on himself Israel’s curse and exhaust it.” (Climax of the Covenant, 151). The “Christ’s” ‘headship’ or ‘representational identity’ is the basis of many texts like Romans 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15, and Gal. 3.

Furthermore, in light of the coming of the “Christos” the covenant people of YHWH are now being redefined in terms of faith in “Christos” instead of “works of the law.”

So, within ‘good’ covenant theology, it is the “Christ” that comes where Israel is, and sums up everything that she was called to be, and thus redefines Israel. In him it is those who trust in and follow the “Christ” that are marked out as God’s covenant people. They are the true Jews (Romans 2:28-29); and they are the true offspring of Abraham (Gal. 3-4).

To clarify: I do not believe that the church “replaces” Israel. Rather, in Christ, Israel reaches her pinnacle, her apex, her climax, her fulfillment; at which time God’s covenant people are subsequently redefined in and around the Christ, specifically by their faith in the Christ and their baptism into him.

So, the church is Israel, the true Israel who has reached a new era within God’s covenant where Jews and Gentiles share as equals in the family of God (Gal. 3:29) because they are the “Christ’s;” they belong to him.

Paul, the torah, and the People of God: Galatians pt 2

Galatians 3:10-14:

[Aside: it is important to note Paul’s quote from Deut. 27-30; Hab. 2, and Levitcus 18.]

Here are a couple of Pauline assumptions: 1. Israel as a whole is under the curse if she fails to keep torah; 2. Israel as a whole failed to keep torah; 3. Therefore Israel is under the curse.

Paul is, with these assumptions, stating this: 1. All who embrace torah are thereby embracing Israel’s national way of life; 2. Israel as a nation has suffered, historically, the curse which the torah held out for her if she did not keep it; 3. Therefore all who embrace torah are under its curse (3:10).1

First of all, in verse 10 Paul pronounces a curse on all who rely on the works of the torah. This has less to do with individuals than is usually recognized. This is about the nation of Israel, who, as a whole turns from keeping the torah and so incurs a curse; specifically the curse of exile. As we all know, the torah had provisions for individual sins; it was when the nation as a whole failed to follow torah that the curse of exile came upon the nation.

If Paul is really invoking the train of thought of the last chapters of Deuteronomy, his point is not that individual Jews have all in fact sinned, but that Israel as a whole has failed to keep the perfect torah, and, as a result, that torah cannot therefore be the means through which she either retains her membership in covenant of blessing or becomes– and this is the point of 3:10-14– the means of blessing the world in accordance with the promises to Abraham.2

This exile and curse is clearly anticipated by Moses in Deut., not as a possible outcome but as an expected outcome; the blessings and curses will be scattered throughout Israel’s history, with a overwhelming tendency to curses.

The torah was destined to send Israel into exile and to bring her under the curse. Not because the torah was bad, but because Israel was in solidarity with fallen Adam, and thus shared the adamic nature; and thus she would fail to keep the torah.

Watch where Paul goes next; to Habakkuk. This book is clearly about God using the Chaldeans to come in and judge Israel and send her into exile. Paul goes here for 2 obvious reasons: 1. Habakkuk says that God’s family (the righteous) shall live by faith; which has been Paul’s argument from 3:1-3:9. 2. Habakkuk is dealing with exile, the curse that God warned Israel about; and during exile God’s people were to be marked out by their faith rather than their torah observance.

So, Habakkuk, faced with the imminent destruction of Israel, had seen the covenant community being redefined in terms of faith: the ‘righteous’ will now be the ones who believes and will be vindicated in the eschatological deliverance.3

3:12 then provides negative confirmation of the same point, that the torah cannot be the place where the covenantal blessing is found. Granted Genesis 15 and Habakkuk 2, which together make the point that God’s intended covenant membership is demarcated by faith; so that, the torah, which offers its covenantal ‘life’ on the basis of ‘doing’ what is says, cannot be in itself the means of faith and hence of life.4

The context of Leviticus 18:5 (quoted in 3:12) too is the warning that unless Israel keeps the covenant charter properly, the land itself will eject those who are thereby polluting it.5 [This is the relevant meaning of exile.]

What does this say about the Torah?

The immediate problem that Paul was facing was this: If we grant and accept the covenant promises to Abraham, what will happen to those promises in light of torah? There are many reasons why torah would come between the promises and their fulfillment: Paul will later speak of its being given to one nation only, whereas God envisaged a worldwide single family, but here he concentrates simply on the fact that the law brings curse, not blessing (compare Romans 4:15 where the torah brings wrath). It cannot of itself produce the faith which according to Genesis and Habakkuk, is the true demarcation of the covenant people, Abraham’s family.6

What then is the solution? The torah is bringing all of its adherents under a curse; all of them. To answer this, and without asking for too much, I would like to establish a point that might seem off subject.

Adam was given a mandate by God to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and have dominion over it. This was given to him. Israel was corporately given the role which had been previously given to Adam. Israel, was to do as a nation, what God had called Adam to do as an individual. This shouldn’t be controversial.

Now, Christ, the second Adam, is reversing this role and he is doing individually, what Israel as a corporate entity could not do. In this way, the Messiah was Israel‘s representative.

Because the Messiah represents Israel, he is able to take on himself Israel’s curse and exhaust it. Jesus dies as the King of the Jews, at the hands of the Romans whose oppression of Israel is the present climactic form of the curse of exile itself. The crucifixion is the perfect example of the curse of exile, and its climactic act.7

Christ as the representative Messiah, has achieved a specific task, that of taking on himself the curse which hung over Israel and which on one hand prevented her from enjoying full membership in Abraham’s family and thereby on the other hand prevented the blessing of Abraham from flowing out to the Gentiles. The Messiah has come where Israel is, under the torah’s curse, in order to be not only Israel’s representative but Israel’s redeeming representative. That which, in the scheme of Deuteronomy, Israel needed if she incurred the curse of the law, is provided in Christ: the pattern of exile and restoration is acted out in his death and resurrection. He is Israel, going down to death under the curse of the law, and going through that curse to the new covenant life beyond.8

The torah has the effect of, as it were, piling up the sin of the world in one particular place, that is, in Israel. This highly negative assessment of the torah’s purpose is then, however, shown to have an underlying positive aim, that the the Messiah, as Israel’s representative, allows the full weight of it to fall on himself. This anticipates one of Paul’s most in depth treatments of the torah which runs from Romans 5:20 through chapter 11. The result in both places is that the torah draws the sin/curse on to Israel in order that it may then be dealt with in the death of the Messiah.9

To sum up: The fundamental note of Galatians 3:10-14 is that of the covenantal curse, Israel’s curse, being taken by Israel’s appointed representative in an act which itself symbolized very precisely all that the curse of exile stood for.10 The death of the king, hanged on a tree in the midst of his own land; rejected by his own people. This was a recapitulation of all of Israel’s sins, climaxing in her rejection of their Messiah and King. Through this God’s promise offspring is created, and the Israel Believers are redeemed from the curse of the law.

In the next section we are going to look at 3:15-23 where Paul contrasts the promise and the torah to see where Paul takes his argument.

Paul, the torah, and the people of God: Galatians PT 1

Before diving into Galatians, it would be helpful to delineate my precise position on the torah so that what I am saying, and what I am not saying, will be evident.

Preliminary points:

First, I believe the position of the new testament is that the torah no longer functions as the demarcation of God’s covenant people; the torah no longer marks them out as God’s people; Jew or Gentile.

Second, the Jews are free to celebrate their ethnic badge of Jewishness by observing the Torah, as long as they understand that the Torah, in no way marks them out as God’s people. Those who do not observe the Torah, but who have entrusted themselves to Jesus the Messiah, are just as much in the family of God with full membership, as Jews who have trusted in Jesus and who also follow the Torah.

Third, the Jews who celebrate their ethnic identity via the Torah, are forbidden to require the Gentiles to follow the Torah in the ways that they do.

Fourth, this includes especially the ‘badge‘ or ‘marker‘ of circumcision.

Paul and the Torah:

To lay out this position we will take a look at Acts 21 and Galatians 2 with a further comment from 1 Cor. 7.

Acts 21: And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the JEWS of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach ALL THE JEWS who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs.

So lets get this straight. Paul has come to Jerusalem, and he is welcomed there by James. And James informs Paul that there is a rumor (apparently false) going around that Paul has told the Jews, specifically the Jews who are among the Gentiles, not to observe the torah, not to circumcise their children, or follow its customs. This is not going to go over well in Jerusalem so James says to Paul, “purify yourself along with the four men, and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.”

This should not surprise us, Paul in one of his letters says, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.” (1 Cor. 9)

After Paul has been purified to show that he is observing the torah; ‘to those under the torah, becoming as one under the torah, even though he himself is not under the torah;’ there is a key phrase that begins with “But.”  Verse 25, “But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.”

Clearly, Paul had told the Gentiles not to circumcise their children, or submit to the torah; the false accusation was that Paul was telling Jews not circumcise their children, which wasn’t true. How do we know that Paul was telling the Gentiles not to circumcise their children? In two ways, 1. The false accusation is concerning what Paul is telling THE JEWS. Once it becomes clear that Paul did not tell the Jews not to circumcise their children (etc), James and the elders said “but as for the Gentiles” clearly intimating that they were not responsible to follow what the Jews had chosen to follow. 2. Paul clearly says in 1 Cor.7 “18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.”

1 Cor. 7:18 is huge: Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Followed by Verse 19: “circumcision doesn’t count for anything.” What does he mean by that? I submit that he means exactly what I said in preliminary points one and two above: that the torah no longer functions as the demarcation of God’s covenant people, etc…

What then does Paul mean by “keeping the commandments of God?” Wasn’t circumcision one of those commandments in the torah? Of course it was. But now circumcision doesn’t count for anything. Notice again that I am not saying that Jews are wrong for circumcising. What I am saying, and what Paul is saying that they are to recognize that it doesn’t function as the boundary marker or identification of God’s true covenant family. This is precisely Paul’s point in Galatians 2. Paul made a trip with Barnabas to Jerusalem and he brought along Titus. He went because he had a revelation to set before them the gospel that he was preaching to THE GENTILES. He brought Titus along as his Test case. Titus, a uncircumcised Gentile, was a believer and follower of Christ. What was the conclusion of his status? “But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.” (Gal. 2:3) Here again Titus, a gentile, is not placed under the authority of the Torah to be marked out as a member of God’s Family.

How then can we tell who God’s covenant family is then, if not by Torah observance, and more specifically circumcision? That is what Galatians chapter 3 is all about.

Galatians 3: Paul will move to defend his stance that God’s people are “marked out” by faith, they receive the Spirit by faith, they are declared to be in God’s single family by faith (justified); and he will appeal to the context of exile to defend his position. God’s people, Paul is saying, are not “marked out” by works of torah; they don’t receive the Spirit by works of torah; they are not declared to be in God’s single family on the basis of works of torah. This is his case from 3:1-3:9.

Torah Observant Movement: A Word on Prophecy

When it comes to the Torah Observant Movement, the Apostle Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, is by far the most powerful antagonist to it; and, Paul single handedly delivers devastating critiques that totally undermine the movement. What we will see is that much of what I have been writing about Jesus, and the way he interpreted his own ministry and his own identity is further verified, and indeed intensified as Paul, God’s inspired spokesperson to the Gentiles, implements all that Jesus inaugurated. “Paul, the Torah, and the People of God: Galatians” will be the next post. First a word about prophecy, to wrap up some of what has been said about Jesus from the gospels.

Prophecy:

When John the Baptist calls Jesus the Lamb of God, what does this insinuate about Jesus? Obviously John doesn’t see Jesus as a four footed mammal. In what sense is it legitimate to call Jesus “the Lamb of God.” Would it be true that the true meaning of “the Lamb of God” was climactically expressed in Jesus, and that the former “lambs” are but shadows? How can a man be a more complete fulfillment for the title “lamb of God” than a literal white furred, four footed lamb? This is a problem that will come up in “prophecy” texts quite often.

This is the case with John the Baptist. In Malachi there is a prophecy about Elijah: Malachi 4:5;“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. 6 And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

There is no hint here that the person that God sends would be anyone other than Elijah. It does not say that the person will be in the Spirit of Elijah, it says it will actually be Elijah. Now, if people take prophecy in this way, seeking for a verbatim fulfillment; then no one with this approach will recognize John the Baptist’s role as Elijah.

So: was John the Baptist actually Elijah? No, he wasn’t the precise person of the Old Testament named Elijah. Not in the way that I would have expected him to be. But, did John the Baptist fulfill the role attributed to Elijah in this verse, in some way as Elijah? Yes; but why would anyone say that he was? Because Jesus: Jesus said and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come (Matt. 11:14).

The most significant point to make here is this: If the Torah Observant Movement’s method of interpreting prophecy is employed, like the one they use for Ezekiel, then there are two possibilities: 1. Jesus was wrong about John the Baptist, and John is not Elijah as prophesied in Malachi; or, 2. The method of interpreting prophecies used by the Torah Observant Movement is unsatisfactory and wrong. If their method is off on a single simple verse; why should it be pushed as though it is the serious most plausible interpretation of a much larger and more complex prophecy like Ezekiel 43-48. If their Method can’t get Malachi 4:5 right, then it most definitely wont get Ezekiel right. The New Testament’s way of claiming fulfillment doesn’t fit with the way they read prophecies.

This is a common trait of fulfilled prophecies. Strange, unexpected, sometimes borderline unfamiliar fulfillments of Scripture take place. This being one of the primary reasons that the Jews by and large did not entrust themselves to their Messiah; because they did not see him fulfilling the Scriptures as they expected. This is also a warning for us.

At the very least, there are numerous texts in the New Testament that clearly delineates truths about Jesus’s life and ministry, specifically his death and resurrection, that should operate as our navigational key in interpreting prophecies.