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The Witness of Scripture and Moses for Jesus the Messiah

By Edited May 30, 2016 0 0

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In our examination of the witnesses of Jesus the Messiah, He would often cite two significant witnesses: Old Testament Scripture and Moses. In conversations with His critics and detractors, Jesus repeatedly sought to explain His role and mission. In this conversation, found in John 5:37-40 and 45-47, Jesus revealed how Moses and the Old Testament testify to Him. These comments, which were part of a confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees, occurred after Jesus healed the man who had been infirm for thirty-eight years. The man responded to the Pharisees’ demand to know who had healed him. With this information, the Pharisees confronted Jesus because He healed on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were of the opinion that the healing violated the Sabbath law. In His defense, Jesus spoke for Himself in the normal manner of these kinds of confrontations. He presented the testimony of John the Baptist (5:33-35), His works (5:36), and Scripture (36-40), which marks the first time Jesus called upon this witness against His opponents.

Of all things offering support for Him, Jesus identified Scripture as the closest or more significant of the definitive links to the Father’s witness. He was not telling them to search the Scriptures, but to diligently scrutinize every word and syllable in their search for eternal life. As a matter of interest, the word for “search” in the Greek is “one that was used in connection with hunting. It referred to the hunter stalking game. When he discovered the tracks of an animal, he concentrated all his attention on the ground before him, diligently searching for other marks which would lead him to his quarry.” [1] The sentence in the passage is past tense, but we could easily translate it in the present tense or even the imperative tense of continued action in that Jesus said the Jews continued searching the Scriptures to have everlasting life. “Origen, Tertullian, Irenaeus, and the Vulgate take the verb as an imperative, challenging the Jews to search the Scripture. The indicative, however, suits the line of argument better, and most modern commentators prefer it.” [2] Assuming the indicative voice is the correct translation, Jesus revealed how the Jews had studied the Old Testament intensely; the “tragedy was these people, for all their painstaking exploration of the sacred writings, had never found the clue which would lead them to their goal. The goal at which they aimed was eternal life, but that life could be received only through him to whom the Scriptures bore witness.” [3] We should commend them for their dedication to Scripture study, albeit with wrong motives.

Jesus turned to Moses and the Old Testament (5:37-38) and gave a devastating critique of the Jews and their ignorance of the Father and, consequently, of Him. Jesus “uses the metaphoric expression ‘You have never heard his voice nor seen his form’ to make the general statement that they are completely cut off from the knowledge of God.” [4] He revealed their ignorance in three specific instances. First, the Jews had never heard God’s voice as did Moses. The religious leaders were not true followers of Moses because, if they had been, they would have heard the voice of God in Jesus. Second, they had never seen God’s form as had Jacob. Had they been true Israelites, they would have seen Jesus as from God. Third, they had not the word of God abiding in them. “The double witness in verses 36, 37 is paralleled by the double reproach in verses 37b, 38. God is completely hidden from the Jews; they have no access to Him.” [5] If they had been true followers of Moses, they would have willingly accepted the testimony of Jesus. To point out “that the Jews should already have acknowledged Jesus on the basis of the Old Testament, and therefore that the Jews are actually guilty of disobedience to Moses, is a form of apologetic that is foreign to the Evangelist; it comes very close to identifying the real guilt of the Jews as their lack of faith with respect to Moses.” [6] Keener demonstrates a chiastic structure of the relationship between the Father’s witness and Moses’ witness.

A. They reject God’s word about Jesus (5:38).

     B. Scriptures witness to Jesus (5:39-40).

          C. Jesus does not receive glory from people (5:41).

               D. Jesus knows them (5:42a).

                    E. They do not love God (5:42a).

                    E’ Jesus comes on His Father’s behalf (5:43a).

               D’ They do not receive Jesus (5:43b).

          C’ They receive glory from one another, not God (5:44).

     B’ Moses testifies to Jesus (5:45-46).

A’ They reject God’s word of Moses about Jesus (5:47).

Jesus then questioned His opponents’ ability to understand Scripture. “Verse 39 refers to the characteristic rabbinic activity of Torah-study. The Greek for ‘diligently study’ corresponds to the Hebrew word dāraš from which the concept of ‘midrash’ or Scripture commentary is derived. Audaciously, Jesus declares that these same Scriptures testify about Him.” [7] Jesus’ argument was difficult for His critics to accept because they did not communicate and could not have contacted the Father through the normal means of interaction of sight and sound. More fundamentally, they did not have the word of God abiding in them, so they were unable to accept Him who was sent by the Father. The rejection of Jesus meant that, despite how intently His critics studied Scripture, they failed to grasp the meaning of the revelation. Jesus is the key to fully understanding the Old Testament, and to reject Him is to reject the God of the Old Testament. “In the ancient Mediterranean world with its competing value systems, people had to choose the groups whose honor mattered to them.” [8] In the same way, people had to choose whom to honor according to their particular value system. Thus, the Jews chose not to honor Jesus or the Father who sent Him. Their decision prevented them from recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, and their unbelief also prevented Scripture from revealing to them the coming Messiah and His role.

The pervasive influence of Hellenism motivated the Jewish faithful to study the Old Testament. The lure of Greek philosophy had prompted the Jews to ask questions about their sacred writings and the Law of Moses with its uncompromising approach and demands for obedience. Until the onslaught of Hellenism, the Jews thought it their duty and obligation as the chosen people of God to accept and obey His revelations and instructions. The typical Jewish view of self was theocentric; the primary responsibility was to serve God. Greek thought prompted new ideas and new ways of thinking, and this impacted the Jews and their view of Scripture. This led to more intense study of the Old Testament than would probably have taken place had the Jews not seen a threat from Hellenistic thought.

The Jews adopted the basis of Scripture: “the Old Testament, leastwise, the Law of Moses was directly and whole from God; and if so, its form also—its letters—must be authentic and authoritative. Thus, much was readily available on the surface, and for all to examine. But the student must search deeper into it, his senses, as it were, quickened by Greek criticism; he must 'mediate' and penetrate into the Divine mysteries." [9] This type of study, combined with a Greek zeal for intellectual exploration, caused the development of a multi-level hermeneutical approach to Scripture during the middle-to-late inter-testament period. Refer to my second book titled Jesus and His Teachings for an in-depth explanation and examples of this method of hermeneutics. While the application of hermeneutics provided insight into Scripture, it also detracted from its contents. The Jews were zealous about their Scripture and devoted to its study. However, they were blind to its true message. By the time of Jesus, some 150-200 years later, the focus of Old Testament study by rabbis and scribes was oriented toward the academic perspective rather than the message. The Hillel School, one of the two prominent centers of Pharisaic study at the time of Jesus, thought that through the diligent study of the Scripture, a person could attain life in the world to follow.

While John does not quote the Old Testament as often as Matthew, he does include a number of references to the Old Testament. These include the following:

John 1:23 and Isaiah 40:3
John 1:51 and Genesis 28:12
John 2:17 and Psalm 69:9
John 3:14 and Numbers 21:9
John 6:31 and Exodus 16:4 and Nehemiah 9:15
John 6:45 and Isaiah 54:13
John 7:38 and Isaiah 44:3 and Isaiah 55:1
John 7:42 and Micah 5:2
John 10:34 and Psalm 82:6
John 12:15 and Zechariah 9:9
John 12:38 and Isaiah 53:1
John 12:40 and Isaiah 6:10
John 13:18 and Psalm 41:9
John 19:24 and Psalm 22:18
John 19:28 and Psalm 69:21
John 19:36 and Psalm 34:20

Judaic study of the Scripture was doubtless not sinful. Their error was the belief in being able to gain acceptance from God through knowledge of Scripture instead of recognizing their sin and accepting the basic premise of Scripture: sin separates man from a holy God and the Messiah, who could, as a shepherd, bring them to God. The Mosaic Law’s purpose was to show them they could not satisfy God, no matter what they did or even how well they performed. Those to whom Jesus spoke were not the only people guilty of this tendency to exhaustively study the Scripture to find God while refusing to hear and apply its message; these words of Jesus are just as applicable today as when He said them.

A few minutes later, Jesus, having exposed the failure of the Jews to accept Scripture as revelation of Him, cited their most revered figure in Scripture, Moses. The Jews thought so highly of Moses as we read in John 9:27-28 that they would boast that they were his disciples. The esteem with which the Jews regarded Moses was such that “they would have been ready to die for what Moses taught. And yet here is the Son of God solemnly declaring that these Jews did not believe Moses and furnishing proof that if they had really believed Moses’ writings they would have believed in Christ, of whom Moses wrote.” [10] It is interesting that the disciples were able to see the correlation between the words of Moses and the prophets and Jesus but they were unable to perceive the relationship. “Philip knew this when he said to Nathanael, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the  Son of Joseph.” [11] Now Jesus explained, to the consternation of His Jewish opponents, it would be the witness of Moses which would condemn them rather than Jesus, for the purpose of Jesus was to save. “The Jews boasted of the flourishing of Scripture learning in the days of Hillel, who died about twelve years after Christ’s birth, and reckoned some of those who were then members of the Sanhedrin the beauties of their wisdom and the glories of their law; and Christ owns that they did indeed search the Scripture, but it was in search of their own glory.” [12]

The impact of Jesus’ words had to be shocking to His accusers, for as they “expected Moses to be their supporter and plead with God on their behalf, Jesus announced to them that Moses would serve instead as their accuser.” [13] This was a direct repudiation of the belief and hope of the Jewish faithful. Their position was “that Moses will acknowledge them as his disciples and as faithful adherents and defenders of his law, and that thus through the mediation of Moses God would undoubtedly pronounce a favorable verdict upon them in the judgment.” [14] Now Jesus was telling them that the same who was the object of their hope and whose writings, teachings, and prophecies they analyzed and scrutinized in hair-splitting detail would condemn them. Carson notes that some Jews thought Moses was still offering intercessory prayer in heaven. It was not just the words Moses wrote in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible; the whole of the Old Testament, the Prophets and Wisdom Literature pointed to the Messiah, who the Jews rejected. “The writings of Moses were full of types that depicted Christ: the ark of Noah, the offering of Isaac, the ladder of Jacob’s dream, the story of Joseph, the Passover lamb, the manna from heaven, the river rock, the serpent on the pole, to mention just a few.” [15] In this confrontation, Jesus spoke in the present tense, indicating that Moses was a present and current witness against them. The Jews misinterpreted Scripture yet again and set their affection on Moses when, in fact, Moses wrote about and pointed to Jesus. Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. This should reinforce the importance of all Scripture, both Old Testament and New Testament, as important to those who believe in Jesus. The Old Testament is crucial, for it reveals sin and tells of the coming Messiah. The New Testament tells of the new covenant and how belief in Jesus leads to forgiveness of sin and eternal life. If the Jews had truly accepted what Moses had written—and Jesus spoke deliberately in the past tense—they would have recognized Him in the writing, teachings, and prophecies of Moses. The few who truly understood the teachings of Moses were truly children of God. Those who lived at the time of Jesus thought themselves to be Jewish. Unfortunately, they rejected Jesus and, by their actions, also rejected the witness of Moses, for the two were inseparable.

3crosses
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Copyright 2016 © Craig B. Manning. All Rights Reserved.

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