THE LIMITATION OF SERVICE OF JESUS’ FIRST BIRTH
Be sure to read part 1 to set the context for this second article.
Being born into the Old Covenant world of Israel had a definite restricting element in regard to Jesus’ work as Messiah. The Messiah was to be king and priest on his throne (Zechariah 6:12-13). Jesus was of the tribe of Judah (Heb. 7:14). As a physical Israelite Jesus could never be the priest foretold by Zechariah, Psalms, etc because, “if he were on earth he should not be priest, seeing there are priests that offer gifts according to the law” (Hebrews. 8:5). Jesus’ earthly ministry prohibited him from fulfilling the prophecies of the priestly function of the Messiah because his fleshly birth placed him outside the sanction of that Old Covenant in regard to priesthood!
Does this not have profound implications for the millennial view that insists Jesus came to be a king, (thus a priest), on earth? Israel’s law forbad the Messiah being a priest because the Messiah was of the tribe of Judah (Isaiah. 11:1). Yet millennialism says Jesus would have been king on earth, (and will be yet under the restored Old Covenant system), had he not been rejected. This is clearly false in the light of Hebrews 8:5. Jesus could never be a priest on earth under the Old Covenant, therefore Jesus could never be a king on earth! The physical birth of Jesus therefore definitely had limiting factors in regard to his Messianic mission.
THE HIDDENNESS OF HIS FIRST BIRTH
Much has been written about the “Messianic Secret’ propounded by Wrede and others. ( For just a small sampling of some of the literature on the Messianic Secret,” see T. Alec Burkill, “The Injunctions to Silence in St. Mark’s Gospel,” Theologische Zeitschrift, Basel F. Reinhardt, ed., 1956, pp. 586-604; William Sanday, (in response to Wrede) “The Injunctions of Silence in the Gospels” Journal of Theological Studies, London, 1903-4, pp. 321-329; Joseph B. Tyson, “The Blindness of the Disciples in Mark,” Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 80, 1961, pp. 261-268, etc.).
While we reject much of what is written about this, it is undoubtedly true Jesus was not recognized by Israel as her Messiah. It is also true that Jesus maintained a “low profile” for a good while. John says Jesus came to his own and his own “knew him not” (1:10). Several times Jesus warned his audience, (even demons!), not to make him known (Matthew 8:4; 9:30; 12:16f; 17:9, etc). Why? Because there were two aspects of the work of Messiah, one hidden, one his revelation in glory.
Edersheim says there was even among the Jews an expectation of, “a temporary obscuration of the Messiah.” (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, MacDonald, Bk. II. chapt. XI, p. 267). How widely this idea was held we cannot tell. What we do know is the Jews thought they knew Jesus when in truth they did not know him at all (Mark 6:1f; John 7:27). (For a study of how Jesus was not known in his ministry, see the following John 1:26; 8:19; Acts 3:17f; 13:27; I Cor. 2:6ff; I John 3:1, as just the briefest examples). They thought they knew exactly what was to be done by Messiah, but in fact, did not understand God’s plan at all.
This reality is driven home in Luke 24. Thinking that Jesus was truly dead, the disciples, not recognizing the resurrected Lord, told him, in abject depression “We thought it was he that was to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). They did not recognize that the Cross was the pathway to the Crown! They, like modern dispensationalists, saw the Cross as a defeat of Israel’s kingdom plans. And for this, Jesus castigated their ignorance of the prophetic scriptures (Luke 24:25f). Examples could also be given of how the Jews misunderstood the nature of the kingdom, the nature of the resurrection, etc..
Wright and an increasing number of scholars and students recognize that while what Jesus did was not what the Jews expected, nonetheless, what he did was exactly what God planned. Wright comments about Paul’s message, “One of the central tensions in Paul’s thought, giving it again and again its creative edge is the clash between the fact that God always intended what has in fact happened, and the fact that not even the most devout Israelite had dreamed that it would happen like this.” ( N. T. Wright Paul, (Minneapolis, Fortress, 2005)54). Likewise, Kee, commenting on Acts 3:19f says, “Neither the Jewish nor the Roman leaders were aware of the divine plan and its cosmic consequences that their humanly despicable plot to destroy Jesus would achieve.” (Howard Clark Kee, To Every Nation Under Heaven, (Harrisburg, Penn., Trinity Press, 1997).
Jesus’ humble physical birth and ministry fulfilled the “hidden” aspect of the Messianic prophecies. Isaiah said God’s elect One would not break a bruised reed nor extinguish a smoking flax (Isaiah 42:1-4). These are pictures of humility, gentility, etc.; not the images of glorification and conquering might tied to his parousia. See my Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory for a full discussion of Jesus’ coming “in the glory of the Father” as a contrast to his coming as the “Suffering Servant.”
Jesus’ first birth then, by purpose and prophecy, placed certain limitations on Jesus. These limitations were “step one” if you please, that would lead inexorably (Acts 2:22-24), to the revelation of the Messiah. More to come.