Unlocking The New Testament: Things New And Old (5)

                   …like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old

                                                         

In this article, we are going to discuss some titles of Jesus that come from the Tanach (Hebrew Bible). As always, I want you to see the continuity between the Testaments: even what seems to be a completely New Testament motive may in fact be rooted in Tanach. We have already seen it with “the other cheek” theme. Today, we are going to discuss some additional examples.

WHO IS THIS SON OF MAN?

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter answered and said, “The Christ (Messiah)  of God.”

 And He strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things…[1]

We have already learned that Jesus continuously discouraged use of the title ‘Messiah’ throughout the length of his earthly ministry. Instead, He repeatedly used the expression ‘Son of Man’ with reference to himself. Would it not be logical to suppose that He preferred to express His mission in terms of ‘Son of Man’, rather than ‘Messiah of Israel’? Why?

The majority of Christians today believe that the title Son of Man reflects the human nature of Jesus: not only is He divine, but He is also a completely human, Son of Man. In fact, the opposite is true: in the intertestamental period, the mysterious ”one like the son of man” from the book of Daniel—behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven![2]clearly emphasized the heavenly, eternal, and universal character of the Savior.

In the first century CE, these two sets of ideas came to represent two separate strands of ‘messianic’ hope: a this-worldly, national and political Savior, versus a transcendental, eternal and universal Savior. They were designated by different names—‘Messiah’ and ‘Son of Man’—and articulated the worldview and expectations of different groups of Jews. In some writings of this period, the concepts of Son of Man and Messiah are clearly distinguished, whilst in others they are brought together, yet nowhere are they completely fused. Therefore, if we really want to understand the ministry and the mission of Jesus in its totality, we need to understand that He came as a transcendental, eternal and universal Son of Man, and “no term was more fitted both to conceal, yet at the same time to reveal to those who had ears to hear, the Son of Man’s real identity.”[3]

HIGH PRIEST FOREVER

In the Epistle to Hebrews, we read: “And it is yet far more evident if, in the likeness of Melchizedek, there arises another priest according to the order of Melchizedek.[4] Why? What is the connection between Melchizedek of the Hebrew Bible and Melchizedek of the New Testament?

In Genesis 14, Melchizedek meets Abraham after he came back from his victory over Chedorlaomer. Melchizedek brings out bread and wine to Abraham, blesses him and praises El Elyon, the creator of heaven and earth, who is responsible for the victory of Abraham. In Genesis 14, Melchizedek is referred to as both “king of Salem” and “priest of the Most High God”. Psalm 110 seals the importance of his priesthood by the solemn oath:  You are the priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.[5]

Who was Melchizedek? Was he a purely mythical figure, or was he a historical person from patriarchal times, to whom mythical features were later attributed? The main quality of Melchizedek in Hebrews is his anonymous character: nobody had known him before he revealed himself to Abraham. However, it is not only the Epistle to Hebrews that emphasizes it: it is precisely because of this anonymous, without genealogy or descent character, that in different Jewish circles of the Second Temple period, the biblical story of Melchizedek expanded into a sort of mythical biography. Melchizedek became a pre-existent and immortal being; he was even thought of as having been begotten in his mother’s womb by the Word of God: for instance, one of the oldest and most astonishing documents discovered at Qumran – 11QMelchizedek – belongs to the genre of eschatological midrashim typical of Qumran and depicts Melchizedek as an eschatological — even messiah. “There were those who expected him to be the judge of the Latter Days, when he, together with the celestial powers, will indicate the judgments of God so that the righteous would become his lot and his heritage.” [6]  From 11QMelch, it is clear that he is not an earthly messiah: Melchizedek is depicted here as an exalted, heavenly figure; in this sense, the parallels between Melchizedek of the New Testament, and that of Qumran are really quite striking.

THE DEATH OF THE HIGH PRIEST

The motif of the High Priest dying the atoning death, and of a sinner whose sin is covered by this death, is prominent in the New Testament. Hebrews explains that Jesus was both the perfect sacrifice and also heavenly High Priest who died once for all and redeemed sinners with his own death:  But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come…with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all.[7]  At first glance, it seems that we don’t find anything about the redemptive death of the High Priest in the Hebrew Bible. Is that really so?

In Numbers 35, we read about the cities of refuge providing protection for whoever “kills a person without intent”. In the description of the cities of refugee, we find an interesting detail: an unintentional murderer must remain in the city of refuge till the death of the high priest. When the high priest dies, he may return to his home, without fear of blood revenge. Why? How is the death of the high priest relevant in this situation?

The answer given centuries later in the Talmudic discussion might surprise New Testament readers. The Jewish interpreters explain that homicide is a sin which must be atoned. A murder cannot be compensated by a ransom;[8] the blood must be redeemed by the death of another person. According to this interpretation, only the death of the high priest may be a proper atonement. Once the high priest dies, the blood is redeemed and the slayer is free.

This seemingly unexpected link between the time of asylum and the death of the high priest is saying, in effect, that only death could atone the blood. Thus, for the first time in the Bible, the death of the High Priest becomes an atoning event.  The New Testament authors picked up on this motif from the Hebrew Bible and elaborated on it.

Excerpts from my new book “Unlocking the Scriptures” are included in this article  (and many other posts here), and I wanted to let you know that the book is published already    and is available on Amazon. It will be available  here  in a few days. You might enjoy also my other  books,  you  can get  them  from  my page:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/   

[1] Lk. 9:20-22

[2] Dan.7:13

[3] Matthew Black, The Son of Man in the teaching of Jesus, Expository Times, lx, pp.32

[4] Heb.7:15

[5] Ps. 110:4

[6] David Flusser, Judaism and the origins of Christianity, Jerusalem, 1988 , p.192

[7] Heb.9:11

[8] Num. 35:31

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. Lucile Dossou-Yovo

    Hi Julia,
    I always enjoy reading your posts, most of the time late but I do read them. I just bought another book, Unlocking the Scriptures, for Kindle. I read Abraham has two sons and the the three levels of understanding in the Jewish culture is still difficult for me to assimilate. I wish I can get more help because I believe it is important. Because of the western culture we all adopted (I am an African) we are not able to go deep in the word of God and we want to rationalize everything.
    We are now in the season that the mainstream Church called Lent and there will be feet washing. Are you able to expound on that gesture by Christ and the whole thing and what our attitude should be today we believers. It has not been mentioned in the Epistles, so we are not able to know if the Apostles did as Yeshua told them ” you ought to do it to one another” I would really be grateful for insight from your side. Thank you. Shalom. Lucile

  2. Lazzaro

    Dear Julia,

    There is obviously a veritable continuity of the Testaments as you have expanded upon. When you stated;

    “What is the connection between Melchizedek of the Hebrew Bible and Melchizedek of the New Testament?”

    .. and when you expanded on this solely using the Holy Writ of the Lord both Old and New Covenants which is all you really need as Jesus would have us understand, it is inescapable that it is a theophany of Jesus revealing Himself in the Old Covenant as the pre-incarnate Son of Man, especially bolstered by how in Genesis 14, Melchizedek brings out bread and wine to Abraham which pointedly foreshadows the Lord’s supper on the night He was betrayed and how Jesus is the King of Peace as Melchizedek was which to me is another unequivocal proof of Melchizedek being a manifestation of the pre-incarnate Lord Jesus. Therefore it would seemingly be half asleep to not see that Melchizedek was not mythical, but Jesus showing Himself in a special way to Abraham in the ways He did.

    As a side;

    As one who has been a student of eteacher of Biblical Hebrew and Greek for at least a few years worth of courses and previous to this been a student of the languages by self-study, and since i wasn’t born speaking English (I’m not American) but a certain Mediterranean tongue which is the closest to Latin spoken in the garden nation of Europe, and since i’ve been trained in a few other Latin based languages and Latin itself in varying strengths over the years growing up which provides me some type of veracious competent understanding of comprehending the linguistic realities of translation including also knowing of the general understanding of problems that arise when translating from one language to another with how nothing can be translated to 100% accuracy so there is always an attempt at dynamic equivalence or formal/functional equivalence, especially since non-English languages like Biblical Hebrew and Greek, English being the barbarian type language it is (to which even my Biblical teachers agree English is such), is unable to grasp the full depth, richness, gamut, range etc of Biblical languages, so i have a question for now which has made me think for some time “how come people miss something so simple especially them who are far more learned than me?’… so here is one of my questions for now on this series you have been expounding on;

    Why do you refer to them as the “Gospels” when no where in the English Scriptures (such as the Geneva, KJV, Bishop’s, Tyndale etc the more reliable English Holy Bibles before the 1800s) is the word “Gospels” and neither is the Biblical Greek translation for the word Gospel in the plural used, and when it’s made clear in the Scriptures more than once by Jesus Himself it’s one Gospel and four witness accounts of that one Gospel and in the English there is only one instance of “Gospel’s” not “Gospels”? This was solidified by the Christ Jesus Himself;

    Mark 1:15 And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel (Good News). (not ‘believe the Gospels’ [“Good News’s] for it is as four witnesses to one event, like four witnesses to one accident.).

    So i frankly don’t see why people call them the “Gospels” when this is a erroneous reading of the text which the Greek doesn’t put forth neither English, which does have importance to be mentioned. The Gospel accounts ought to just be referred to as the Gospel accounts as they are properly rendered in the Koine and English, since it’s not ‘the Gospels’ but one Gospel and four accounts of that one Gospel. Jesus did declare after all;

    Luke 12:26 If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?

    Luke 16:10 He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.

    Selah.

    Regards,

    1. Gene

      Hi, Lazzaro! I am by no means a translation or linguistics expert, but I think your problem with the term “Gospels” is simply resolved in that the Gospel (Good News) message is being presented by four different individuals. Many translations introduce the individual books with the phrase “The Gospel According to Matthew” (Mark, Luke, and John as well). The plurality of the word Gospel, I believe, is referring to the fact that there are four (wonderful) accounts of the same message.

    2. Julia Blum

      Hi Lazarro, thank you for your comment, I definitely see your point and theoretically, I would probably agree with you. However, for a practical use, as Gene wrote here, “The plurality of the word Gospel, is referring to the fact that there are four accounts of the same message”.

  3. Dr. Maureen Sanger

    This is wonderful insight and for some of us a revelation. To see it so plainly explained is a gift.
    I have been able to minister the “atonement for sin” but to see this unpacked means so much when I am ministering to those who have had abortions. Thank you for such a Blessing!
    Ordering the book now.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for your kind words, Maureen. I am so glad you keep finding this blog interesting and helpful! Blessings!

  4. Judith

    Very interesting topic. Unlocking the new and old testament