The Bible is all about Jesus, isn’t it? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out!
Many of us have heard the joke. A boy is in a Sunday School class and the teacher asks the question “What’s small, has a bushy tail, climbs trees, and eats nuts?” A little boy raises his hand and the teacher points to him and he says “Well, it sounds like a squirrel, but I know the answer has to be Jesus.”
I thought about this recently in looking through Facebook memories. I found an interaction I did with someone Jewish who told me that I would insist that Isaiah 53 had to be about Jesus. I said in fact that I have no problem with Isaiah 53 being the nation of Israel. I pondered further upon seeing this and thought that this could be a problem with our hermeneutics. It damages our giving of the Gospel and damages our witness to the Jewish people around us especially.
You see, many Christians today seem to think that everything in the Bible is about Jesus. Please don’t assume at the start that I’m disputing this. I’m not. I just want that position to be further nuanced. Another assumption we have that unless a prophecy is about Jesus specifically, then that is a prophecy about the end times and whoa! Wouldn’t you know it? We just happen to be the people that the Bible is prophesying about so hey, let’s open up the Bible and then see what is going to happen in the world next!
Both positions I consider damaging. Let’s start with the first.
I tell people that when you read the Old Testament I want you to try to cease to be a Christian, at least for a little while. Imagine you’re a Jewish person at the time of the writing who is hearing this for the first time. You have no clue about Jesus. What are you going to think about the text? How will you interpret it and understand it?
When we give our presentations of the Gospel, we often present Israel as a footnote if even that. Israel was quite central to what God was doing. We make it sound sometimes like God wanted to redeem the world and Israel failed so Jesus came as plan B. As I’ve argued elsewhere, when we give a Gospel presentation, we need to include Israel. When we include Israel, we can understand the covenants of God and the promises of God better.
“Okay, Nick. I get what you’re saying. But what about Jesus? Isn’t the Bible supposed to be all about Jesus? How can it be if it’s about Israel?”
Good objection. I had suggested you cease being a Christian for awhile when reading the Old Testament. After that, bring back your Christianity and then see how a Jewish Christian at the time of Jesus would read the text. Then go even further and see how a Gentile in the first century who believed in Jesus would read the text. The text is written for you, but it is not written to you.
When you see a text that could be about Israel, go with it. See what it says about Israel. Then ask yourself these questions. “Who is the true Israel?” Who is the true one who represented God to the world? Who is the true one that could be called someone in covenant with God? Who was the one who brought God to the world? The true Israel is the one who did those things. Israel was meant to do them, but Israel couldn’t because Israel was part of the problem consisting of fallen human beings. Jesus was the one who did not fall and thus can be called the true Israel. We today can also be called Israel not because we have replaced Israel, but because we have been included in the promises of God. We have been grafted into the olive tree. All who believe in Jesus are on that tree. It includes Jewish and Gentile believers.
Thus, the text can be about Israel at first, but it also points to the greater Israel, Jesus. We can be included in a sense as well as we take on the identity of Jesus. This is another motive for us to strive to be like Jesus.
What about end times stuff? Well believe it or not, a lot of prophecies have been fulfilled and not just ones about the first coming of Jesus. Much of Isaiah 12-16 describes Babylon for instance. A lot of the prophets were seen as prophets because some of what they said had happened as they said it would. Now some of you might want to go to a dual fulfillment for the end times. As an orthodox Preterist, I don’t buy into that, but if you want to use it, please do not deny the prior fulfillment. The Bible is definitely all about Jesus, but it is not all about you.
This will also help you reach the Jewish people you know. Our Christianity can often make it seem like the Jewish people have been passed over and God does not work with them anymore. Imagine what it does when we say the Old Testament itself is not about Israel.
There was an old episode of All In The Family once with Archie Bunker’s son-in-law getting after him about his antipathy for Jewish people. The son-in-law asked him about his nephew and niece having Jewish names like David and Sarah. Archie replied that those were names from the Bible, which has nothing to do with the Jews.
A funny clip and we all see it as a ridiculous statement, but do we live it in our hermeneutics? Are we just as guilty of excluding Israel? Does it damage the way we read Scripture and our witness to Jewish people?
Think about it.