I was reading Luke chapter 4 last week, and it hit me: perhaps I should fire up the blog again. During my time with the non-profit and without the stress of periodic blog posts, I’ve had time to refine my thoughts do some reading. It’s been quite gratifying and I’m excited jump in again!
In Luke chapter 4 details the events immediately following the baptism of Jesus. Jesus enters the wilderness, directed by the Holy Spirit, and fasts for 40 days. Then the devil shows up and presents Jesus with three temptations, all of which Jesus resists by quoting scripture. The chapter then shifts to Jesus’ visit to his home town and their rejection of him, interactions with demons, his healing of the sick, and the spread of his early ministry.
Scholars have long noticed that the Jesus-in-the-wilderness account (found in Luke 4, Matthew 4) has Jesus pantomiming the journey of Israel in the Exodus. Jesus went into the wilderness right after he was baptized, a direct callback to Israel going through the Red Sea and then heading into the wilderness. Jesus was telegraphing the he was the true son of God, a title held by faithful Israel (see Exodus 4:22-23, where God calls Israel His firstborn son).
Sonship of God is an important theme throughout the Bible. Israel is called God’s son in Exodus and Hosea 11:1. Adam was God’s son, Abraham was God’s son, the king of Israel was called God’s son (Psalm 2:7). The sons of God (Hebrew: bene elohim) are the supernatural beings that serve God in Heaven. Believers are also considered God’s children (Galatians 3:26-29) and are chosen to rule (Revelation 3:21).
The connection between divine sonship and royalty in ancient Mesopotamia was fairly ubiquitous. Kings were commonly linked with their gods. Egyptian pharaohs, as well as Assyrian, Babylonian, Sumerian and Hittite kings, all claimed some link to their god, whether they were a god, the son of a god, or a divinely chosen ruler (“Kingship and the State in Ancient Israel”, Nili S. Fox, from Behind the Scenes of the Old Testament, pp. 475-6).
Against this backdrop, early followers of Jesus could accept him as a King through his demonstration of His sonship. This seems to be why Matthew constructed his gospel as he did to help his readers understand the connection between Moses, Israel, and the life and ministry of Jesus.
For more on this topic, check out short blog “Jesus The True Israel” published on the Ligonier website.
For a more in-depth look, check out Jesus as Israel: The Typological Structure of Matthew’s Gospel by Peter J. Leithart.
Jesus as High Priest-King
The office of King in ancient Mesopotamia often carried with it divine attributes and responsibilities. In Egypt, the pharaoh had many religious duties; some even took on the mantle of godhood. Assyrian and Babylonian kings “ruled by divine authority as intermediaries between gods and humans” (Fox, p. 476).
In the Bible, Moses, the anointed ruler of the Israelites, was told by God that he would seem “as God/a god [elohim]” to Pharaoh (Exodus 4:16) and to Aaron (Exodus 7:1) because of his position. He mediated between God and Israel many times, interceding on their behalf when they sinned. The order of Melchizedek, the most striking example of a priest-king in Genesis 14:18-20, is referred to as the template for Jesus’ own authority as a priest rather than the Aaronic or Levitical orders (Hebrews chapters 5-7). This template of authority seemed to be God’s preferred way to rule in conjunction with humans; we catch a glimpse of this under the reign of David and Solomon (though imperfectly), but the template was quickly abandoned due to the sins of their successors.
Salvation and Kingship
What struck me about Luke 4:1-12 and what led me to write this post was what I read in “The Unseen Realm” by Michael Heiser, page 279:
Had Jesus given in, it would have been an acknowledgement that Satan’s permission was needed to possess the nations. It wasn’t. Satan presumed power and ownership over something that, ultimately, was not his but God’s. The messaging behind Jesus’ answer is clear: Yahweh will take the nations back by his own means in his own time. He doesn’t need them to be given away in a bargain. Jesus was loyal to his Father. Since reclaiming the nations was connected with salvation and redemption from the effects of the fall in Eden, accepting Satan’s offer would have undermined the necessity of the atonement of the cross.The Unseen Realm, p. 279, emphasis mine
Christians know that Jesus died for their sins, but what, exactly, was the mechanism that made Jesus’ death work?
I believe salvation is accomplished through Jesus’ successful execution of the office of humanity’s high priest-king.
When I read Heiser’s words I realized Luke 4 was evidence for my claim.
Luke 4 presents Jesus as the only person uniquely qualified to fulfill what Israel, a kingdom of priests (Exodus 19:5-6), the patriarchs, David, and Adam (my blog post on this), were supposed to do. Successful priests are free from blemish in order to truly do their job in God’s presence! They must resist all temptation. Adam failed (the fruit), Israel failed (the entire book of Numbers!), but Jesus perfectly fulfills the requirements of what humanity’s ultimate ruler is supposed to do.
The demons and Satan all knew that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah (meshiach, or God’s “anointed one”). They knew that Jesus’ mission included their destruction and judgment (see Luke 4:34 and Matthew 8:29).
What they didn’t know was that his death and resurrection were crucial to the plan. Because Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Israel had all failed as the divine “son of God,” the forces of darkness didn’t know what to expect from a successful one!
By succeeding where Adam, Moses, and Israel failed, Jesus accomplishes multiple goals at once:
- Prophet – humanity gets to see the perfect image of God (Hebrews 1:3, Deuteronomy 18:14-15)
- Priest – humanity gets its blameless intercessor back (Adam was supposed to do this in God’s presence in the garden, which I will argue later)
- King – humanity is taken back by God from the powers of darkness, which He gave over after the Babel incident (see Genesis 11, Deuteronomy 32:8-9, Luke 4:6).
I plan on exploring more of this high priest-king idea as the vehicle, designed by God, to accomplish the salvation of both individuals and entire nations.
If I’m correct, this also has huge implications for our understanding of human origins and the development of religion throughout ancient world history.