Thursday, April 26, 2012

“All Authority in Heaven and on Earth Has Been Given to Me”: Intertextuality between Matthew 28:18 and the Old Testament

One of the most significant post-resurrection appearances of Jesus has to be the meeting that took place in Galilee. Missing Judas Iscariot, the eleven disciples “went to Galilee, to the mountain about which Jesus had commanded them” (Matt 28:16). There they saw that Jesus was alive, but even then some of them found it hard to believe that Jesus had been resurrected (Matt 28:17). On seeing Jesus, they worshiped him. Then, as Jesus approached them, he uttered these remarkable words: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”(Matt 28:18).

By saying that all authority—not just some authority, but all authority—in heaven and on earth had been given to him, Jesus was effectively claiming to be on par with God. It was the same as saying that he was the King of the universe!

Had the resurrection gone to his head? No! Jesus understood that his resurrection had proven that he was the fulfillment of at least two very important Old Testament prophecies. In saying that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him, Jesus was interacting in particular with Dan 7:13–14 and Ps 2:8–9. That Jesus had these verses in mind can be surmised on the basis of the intertextual connections between Jesus’words in Matt 28:18–19 and these particular Old Testament texts.

The prophecy of Dan 7:13–14 talks about one like a son of man who goes up to heaven on a cloud into the presence of the Ancient of Days to receive authority to rule over the whole world as the king of an eternal kingdom. The expression son of man is Jewish idiom for a human being. According to this prophecy, therefore, we have a particular human being who would be appointed by God to be the king of the whole world. By saying “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” Jesus was claiming to be the fulfillment of this Son of Man prophecy of Dan 7. The intertextual connections are especially apparent in the original LXX version of Dan 7:14 (as opposed to the translation of Theodotian), which includes the words ἐδόθη αὐτῷ ἐξουσία authority was given to him and πάντα τὰ ἔθνη all the nations. Jesus echoes these words in Matt 28:18–19 in saying ἐδόθη μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία all authority has been given to me and μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη make disciples of all the nations.

Concerning Ps 2:8–9, the intertextuality centers on the common use of the word ἔθνη in the LXX of Ps 2:8, as well as the conceptual similarity between the two texts in the idea of the Messiah ruling over the nations. In Ps 2:8–9 God instructs the Messiah, following his establishment as king in Zion, to ask God’s permission to receive authority to possess the nations of the world. By saying “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”in Matt 28:18, Jesus was also claiming to be the fulfillment of this prophecy of Ps 2 where it is previewed that the Messiah would receive the nations as his possession.

Christ’s lordship is closely linked in the Bible to his resurrection. In Matt 28:18 Jesus linked his resurrection in with the prophecies of Dan 7:13–14 and Ps 2:8–9 in order to highlight the connection between his resurrection and his lordship. By coming back alive from the dead, Jesus has shown himself to be the one chosen by God in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy to be King over all. To be clear, Jesus’ resurrection means that he is King over the whole world. This makes sense: being able to conquer death, Jesus is the king who is able to lead the human race in victory against the forces of evil (whose greatest weapon is death). By defeating death, Jesus can lead the human race back to regain the eternal life that was lost in Eden. An important aspect of the significance of Jesus’ resurrection is the necessary conclusion that Jesus is the King and Lord of all. Jesus is the one who goes before us, leading redeemed humanity to victory over sin and death.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Resurrection of Jesus in Matthew 28:1–10

Over the centuries many people have doubted the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. But it is remarkable how one charismatic preacher, who had no possessions and no worldly wealth, who commanded no army, and wielded no political power, who wandered around a far-flung out-of-the-way province of the Roman Empire almost two thousand years ago, could change the world in the way that he has if nothing happened on that fateful morning.

According to Matthew’s account, two women, both called Mary walked to the tomb early on the Sunday morning (Matt 28:1). There was Mary Magdelene, whom Jesus had healed from demon possession (Luke 8:2); and the “other Mary,” who was the wife of Clopas (see John 19:25). These two women were among those who used to follow Jesus as he traveled around, and helped provide for him and the disciples. In their devotion to Jesus, they were wanting to go and see the place where he had been buried.

But on their way to the tomb suddenly a large earthquake shook the ground around them (Matt 28:2). An angel had come down from heaven, and pushed back the stone blocking the doorway of the tomb. We know that the angel had pushed back the stone to let Jesus out; but all that the two Marys knew initially was that an earthquake had taken place, and that the angel was sitting high up on top of the stone. The angel looked as bright as lightning, and his clothes were as white as snow (Matt 28:3). The guards who had been placed there at the Jewish leaders’ insistence (see Matt 27:62–66) had been effectively hypnotized by the angel. Out of sheer fear, they had been psychologically stunned, and were motionless, as if dead (Matt 28:4).

When the women saw this, the angel spoke and said to them, “Don’t be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, just as he said!” (Matt 28:5–6). Jesus had told his disciples on at least three occasions during his time with them, that he would be put to death, but rise from the dead three days later (Matt 16:21; 17:22–23; 20:17–19; see also Matt 12:40). The three days in question were determined in terms of inclusive counting. Friday, Saturday, Sunday makes three days. Matthew, through the words of the angel, makes the point that Jesus’ rising from the dead happened just as Jesus had said it would. And to prove that Jesus was no longer there, the angel invited the two Marys to look inside the tomb in which Jesus had been placed (Matt 28:6).

Jesus’ disciples initially found it hard to believe that Jesus had been resurrected. Even today some people find the concept of Jesus’ resurrection incredible, but Matthew’s Gospel asserts that the resurrection of Jesus really happened. The angel said that Jesus had risen, and the two Marys witnessed the empty tomb as proof of this angelic assertion.

The angel then told the women to go and tell the disciples that Jesus had risen from the dead (Matt 28:7). The women were to tell the disciples that Jesus would meet them in Galilee, and that there they would see him.

The women did just as the angel had commanded them (Matt 28:8). They raced quickly from the tomb, filled with a mixture of great fear and wonderful joy. It is likely that their thoughts were also racing at this time: Is it true? Is it possible? Is our Master indeed risen from the dead? They had seen the empty tomb, but as they were running all of a sudden … Jesus!

Jesus was standing in front of them, greeting them (Matt 28:9). The women fell down to the ground, grabbed hold of Jesus’ feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go, tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there” (Matt 28:10).

Not only the angel, not only the empty tomb, but now … Jesus himself! Standing there in front of them, Jesus’ personal presence was proof indeed that he was risen from the dead.

The account of Jesus’ resurrection in Matthew’s Gospel functions as an invitation to all people to believe in the historical resurrection of Jesus, to accept the fact that Jesus, who died through crucifixion, has risen from the dead.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Summary of Biblical Christianity

A summary of Christianity from an evangelical and Reformed perspective:

The Bible (i.e., the 66 books of the Protestant Bible) is the word of God. This form of revelation is God’s ordinary means of communication with humanity. The content of the Bible, being a form of divine communication, is to be accepted as authoritative.

The Bible reveals that God is triune. God the Father is the eternal source, from whom God the Son, and God the Spirit, eternally emanate. God the Father is invisible and unknowable in and of himself, but he reveals himself through God the Son. God the Spirit is the invisible presence and power of the Father and the Son over and above and throughout the universe.

God has a plan for the world that he has chosen to create. His plan is ultimately to reveal himself to his creatures through the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth. All things come to pass in accordance with God’s decree and in a manner most appropriate for the achieving of this plan.

God created the universe through the power of his word. Through his word, he brought form to the original formless state of the earth. Through his word, he also began the process of filling the earth with living creatures, thereby overcoming the original empty state of the earth.

God created Adam and Eve in his own image to live in the garden of Eden, to enjoy God’s provision and presence. God entrusted to them and the human race the task of extending the kingdom of God throughout the earth, but this could only be done as humanity was obedient to God’s word. Upon the completion of this task, humanity would enter into an eternal Sabbath rest, living permanently in the presence of God.

Sadly, Eve was tempted by Satan, and Adam disobeyed God by eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This led to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden of Eden. Through this disobedience, humanity lost the privilege of living in the presence of God.

Despite this rebellion, God responded graciously to humanity. God has a plan to save his people, allowing humanity ultimately to be able to return to live in his presence and to experience his blessing. God’s plan of salvation was revealed with greater clarity over time. The key stages of redemptive history in the Bible are the flood with Noah, the calling of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), the redemption of Israel from Egypt, the Sinaitic and Deuteronomic covenants, the conquest of the promised land, the Davidic covenant, the division of the kingdom, the exile of Israel and Judah, the post-exilic restoration, and the new covenant in Christ.

From the beginning of redemptive history God has indicated that he was going to bring about the salvation of the human race and the world through a chosen seed. Over time, it was revealed that this chosen seed would be a Spirit-filled King of Israel. This King, the promised Messiah and suffering Servant of God, the divine Emmanuel, would die as an atonement for the sins of his people; and having broken the power of sin, would pour out the Holy Spirit upon all flesh, in order to bring about the eschatological return of Israel and the nations in obedience to God.

The New Testament identifies Jesus of Nazareth as being the divine Messiah who was promised in the Old Testament. Through his obedient life and death on the cross, Jesus has made full atonement for the sins of his people. Through his resurrection from the grave, and ascension to the right hand of God the Father in heaven, Jesus has inaugurated the new covenant, and opened up the way for humanity to be able to safely return into the presence of God, and to begin to experience the blessing of eternal life.

Having taken his seat on the throne of the Messiah, Jesus has received the right to possess the nations, along with the right to pour out the Holy Spirit upon those whom he has chosen to experience salvation. In order to bring about the realization of the kingdom of God through his possession of the nations, Jesus has entrusted his church with the task of proclaiming the message of his death, resurrection, and lordship. Empowered by his Spirit, his messengers proclaim this message, which is the gospel; and moved by his Spirit, the elect respond in faith to this message.

Those who respond in faith to the gospel are united to Christ and his church, and share in the benefits of membership in Christ’s body: their sins are forgiven, their persons justified, and their hearts sanctified. Led by the Spirit of God, God’s people are strengthened to walk in the way of the Lord, and to persevere until the end. The destination of this walking in the way of the Lord is experiencing the fullness of eternal life in the presence of God following the resurrection of the dead on the day of judgment.