I have been reading through, leading a discussion class, and occasionally posting on Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels by Richard Hays. I am sure that no one will agree with every connection and echo of the Old Testament Hays finds in the Gospels (he often indicates that some are “faint” and possibly not in the intent of the author). Yet, the insights that come from these references and echoes can (and should) transform the way we approach the Gospels. The description of the identity and mission of Jesus is far deeper and richer than a surface reading reveals … layers of meaning. Biography, even ancient biography, as a genre, doesn’t do justice to the nature of these books. We have, for our benefit, sophisticated depictions of the life and mission of Jesus, grounded in the Old Testament story.
The Gospel of Luke sandwiches the story of Jesus between the infancy narrative (Ch. 1-3) that sets the stage and the final scenes with the two on the road to Emmaus and then with the disciples in Jerusalem. To understand the importance of the declaration of Jesus’ identity in the first few chapters of Luke it is helpful to start at the end.
In Luke 24, Cleopas and his companion note of Jesus “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. … but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” Jesus, unknown to them at the time, proceeds to explain, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Later, to the eleven and those with them (including the two from the road), he explained again all that was said concerning himself.
Cleopas and his companion had it right – but in an unanticipated and revolutionary manner they did not yet understand. Luke is closing circle on the theme with which he started the Gospel. The introduction in Luke 1-3 make it clear that Jesus is the one who redeems Israel. Mary is told “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David.” Zechariah prophesies “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.” Simeon praises God saying “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.“
These events frame Luke’s depiction of the identity and mission of Jesus as the redeemer of Israel and should guide our reading of his Gospel. In Echoes Richard Hays outlines a number of aspects of the way in which Luke portrays the identity of Jesus as the redeemer of Israel.
Jesus is the agent of liberation. Hays picks up three main themes. Jesus is the Spirit anointed servant, the Davidic royal Messiah, and a prophet powerful in word and deed. The theme of Jesus as the Davidic Messiah is prominent in Luke 1-3 as the quotes above indicate, but minor in the rest of the Gospel. It resurfaces as an important theme in the book of Acts.
Spirit anointed liberator. Jesus role as the Spirit anointed servant frames the opening of his ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
The passage quoted is primarily a passage from Isaiah 61:1-2, but includes an insertion from Isaiah 58:6. The brief excerpt provided by Luke then leads us to consider the entire passage and context of Isaiah 58 and 61. This is a message of hope and liberation, but also a call for a return to God’s way of life. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the throngs of the yoke, to set the broken ones forth in release, and to break every yoke?” (Hays quote including the LXX rendering of to set the oppressed free (p. 225). This is good news – but not for the oppressors or those focused on religious purity at the expense of God’s call for justice.
A prophet (like/unlike) Elijah and Elisha. Another theme in Luke tells of Jesus as a prophet mighty in word and deed, but more than just a prophet. Hays cites two specific examples where Jesus is portrayed in this light. The most suggestive is the incident in Luke 7:11-16 where Jesus raises a widow’s son from the dead. The people of the town “were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This incident recalls two in 1 and 2 Kings. The first where Elijah brings a widow’s son back from death (1 Kings 17:17-24) and the second where Elisha brings the Shunammite woman’s son back (2 Kings 4:8-37 ). There is an important distinction, however. Elijah and Elisha pray to God to restore the son to his mother. In contrast Jesus “said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.” Hays notes:
Thus, while Jesus’ act is reminiscent of Elijah’s – so strongly reminiscent that we may speak of a typological relationship between the two figures – the typological link already begins to suggest both likeness and unlikeness. Jesus, the antitype, fulfills the pattern found in the Elijah story but does so in way that surpasses the type and leads readers to ponder how to interpret this prophet figure who seems to possess even greater authority than the greatest of Israel’s miracle-working prophets. (p. 238-239)
Another important contrast is found in Luke 9. The people of a Samaritan village did not welcome Jesus and the disciples. “When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”” v. 54 This calls to mind 2 Kings 1, where Elijah calls down fire from heaven on the men sent by the king to fetch him. The echo is strengthened when we realize that some were saying of Jesus “that Elijah had appeared.” (v. 8) Jesus, however, rebukes James and John. He isn’t there to call down fire from heaven on those who oppose him. His mission is different.
Hays runs through a number of other comparisons as well, most with both similarities and important differences.
Jesus as Lord and God of Israel. The action of Jesus in raising the widow’s son sets the stage for Jesus as far more than a prophet, mighty in word and deed. Jesus is identified as the Son of God; he is Lord of the new exodus; he is the “coming one;” he is kyrios (Lord).
Son of God. Although Son of God can refer to a human, to the Davidic king, or to Israel as a whole, Hays argues that the use of the term in Luke implies something more. As Jesus is something greater than the prophets of old, he is something greater than a human Davidic king or a recapitulation of Israel. The primary references are in 1:32, 1:35, 3:22, 9:35, and 10:22. The latter is particularly important. Jesus exclaims “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
Luke certainly does understand Jesus as the heir of David’s royal role as son, in the sense of Psalm 2:7. The acclamation of Jesus as God’s Son includes this kingly role, but something greater is here. For Jesus’ origins are mysteriously divine, and his personal identity is closely bound up with God’s own being that transcends the God-relation of any of Israel’s past kings or prophets. (p. 247)
The coming one. The primary reference to “the coming one” is in the question and response to John’s disciples in Luke 7:18-23. When asked if he is the coming one, Jesus heals many people and sends the disciples back to John to give him this report. “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” The actions speak louder than words, with reference again to the prophet Isaiah where several passages could be cited. It is worth noting that the actions performed here are those expected of Israel’s God in Isaiah 35:4-6: “Your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.“
Kyrios (Lord). There are more than 15 references to Jesus as Lord (κύριος) in the Gospel of Luke. Many of these are in Luke’s narrative voice, indicating that this is how he is portraying the identity of Jesus. See, for example, 7:13 (When the Lord saw her), 7:19 (sent to the Lord), 10:39 (at the Lord’s feet), 22:61 (The Lord turned and looked at Peter) and 24:34 (the Lord has risen indeed) where Luke uses the title Lord for Jesus, the same title he uses for God in other places (e.g. Luke 1:16).
In short, Luke, in his own narration quite remarkably applies the title κύριος both to the God of Israel and to Jesus of Nazareth- occasionally in a way that suggests a mysterious fusion of divine and human identity in the figure of Jesus. This is not a result of editorial carelessness. Luke has deployed his references to Jesus as κύριος with careful compositional skill to shape the reader’s understanding of Jesus’ divine identity. (p. 253)
Hays goes on to indicate how the redeemer of Israel is none other than Israel’s God and this is embedded in the story of Jesus, framed by the initial proclamation to Mary, the prophecy of Zechariah, and the exclamation of Simeon and the final appearance to his disciples on the road to Emmaus and back in Jerusalem. “Jesus, in truth, is the embodied, unrecognized, but scripturally attested presence of the One for whom they (the disciples) unwittingly hoped.” (p. 264)
There is far more here than the Cleopas and his companion realized, and far more than we often realize today.
If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net