How did Jesus and the apostles view the law, psalms, and prophets? There was a school of rabbinic thought concerning the Messiah at the time the Messiah began His ministry. Rather than discard this paradigm, Jesus and the apostles embraced it and took it even further.
Example #1- Matthew 2:1-6 quoting Micah 5:2. Rather than pointing out the error of the chief priests, Matthew points out that they were correct in their view of the Messiah. The Messiah certainly would be born in Bethlehem.
Example #2- Matthew 17:10-13 quoting Malachi 4:5-6. Rather than Jesus correcting the disciples as they cite the scribes’ interpretation of the prophets, Jesus embraces the view of the scribes as correct. Elijah will come first Jesus affirms. He adds to their understanding by stating that the Son of Man must also suffer – as did John the Baptist who fulfilled the role of Elijah for this particular coming of the Messiah. So the teaching of the scribes was correct, but fell short because they were blind to Messiah’s suffering.
Example #3- Matthew 22:41-46 quoting Psalm 110:1. Jesus questions the Pharisees with this scripture. He knew that they could not deny that Psalm 110 referred to the Messiah. The point of contention that Jesus knew that this would raise is the fact that Messiah is the offspring of God existing in some way during David’s life and reign. Jesus poses the question of how the Messiah can be both offspring of David and Lord of David. The Pharisees have no answer. They cannot deny that the passage is Messianic. They also cannot deny that Messiah comes from David’s loins.
What had happened is that the Pharisees had developed a framework of Messianic theology. This framework helped them to understand the coming Messiah. But this very framework limited them from understanding other truths equally as important. Jesus points, shows them the Messiah, shows them the truth concerning the Messiah, and they have no answer.
However, not everyone was stumped by this issue. There were common people who did not have these complicated theological positions. They simply studied the scriptures and took them at face value. They had no problem with seeing the Messiah be both God and man. Mark 12:37 notes this fact that the multitudes at large gladly heard this teaching. At one point in His ministry, Jesus thanked His Father that the truths about the Messiah were hidden from the wise and revealed unto simple children, Matthew 11:25. Ultimately there was no contradiction. The Messiah is both Lord of David and son of David. The common people understood this while the Pharisees were blinded.
Example #4- John 12:34 citing that Messiah abides forever, no specific scripture. John has already shown that Jesus as the Messiah abides forever being God Himself taking on flesh, John 1. So John is not utilizing the comments of the crowd to show that they are wrong in their belief that the law states that Messiah abides forever. The point of contention here is how can someone who lives forever experience death? The same people that knew that Messiah lives forever could not comprehend the Messiah experiencing this death that Jesus was alluding to. Again, we have a situation where one doctrine is being over emphasized, and another doctrine being completely ignored.
Example #5- Matthew 21:33-44 quoting Psalm 118:22-23. Jesus knew that this psalm was considering Messianic since the crowds were singing portions of it as He entered Jerusalem, Psalm 118:25-26. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD. Save now = Hosanna. The portions of the psalm concerning triumph over enemies were willingly embraced. But the portion concerning rejection was overlooked. Again, one doctrine is over emphasized while another is bypassed. Jesus is here bringing to light that Messiah must be rejected. Peter also used this rejection to prove to His own countrymen that Jesus truly is the Messiah, Acts 3:17-18, 4:11-12. The stone which the builders rejected had become the chief cornerstone in Peter’s mind.
This has been all pre-resurrection. Now after Jesus rises from the dead, He begins to open their minds to understand the scriptures, Luke 24:44-49. Taking this passage at face value we see that the disciples have a new understanding about the Messiah when they look at the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms. This is before Pentecost. They now understand that the purpose of the law, prophets, and psalms is to show that the Messiah had to suffer, and on the third day rise again from the dead. They understand their place (foretold before in the scriptures) of being God’s witnesses to proclaim the message of repentance and forgiveness beginning in Jerusalem, but eventually to ALL nations.
We do not need an apostle physically present to tell us that the message of the law, prophets, and psalms is the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Messiah. We already have this truth contained in scripture. When we look at the OT, we should expect to see the suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Messiah. When Paul went to the Thessalonians to preach in Acts 17, he opened the OT scriptures and proved to them that the Messiah had to suffer, die, and rise again. How many people reading this blog post would be able to do that? Can we open the OT scriptures and show someone the prophecies of the Messiah foretelling that He must suffer, die, and be raised? Or would that be sensus plenior? Did only the apostles have this ability to turn to the scriptures and show that the Messiah had to suffer, die, and rise again? When the apostles died, did the church lose this ability?
Some people object to seeing the Messiah in the psalms because they think that David could not have known about the Messiah as in depth as he portrays Him. They categorically create a theology whereby David’s knowledge of the Messiah is limited. However, Peter states that David knew that the Messiah would be born of His lineage and wrote about Him in the psalms, Acts 2:30. The scripture plainly states that David was a prophet. How can we prove what David did not know? The only way to hinder people from seeing Messiah in the psalms is to create a theological framework whereby David did not know anything about the Messiah (which contradicts Acts 2:30) and then state that when the apostles quoted the psalms that are fulfilled in Messiah that they were doing so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and further that they are the only ones qualified to do so. This is akin to what the Pharisees did with the Messianic prophecies. It may help in some areas, but it blinds us in others.
Now I need to address what is popularly known as the grammatical-historical-literary hermeneutic. This is exactly how I read the scriptures. I refer to it as reading scriptures in context since the Bible is progressively revealed. There is no way we can go back and change the original prophecies to say something different. They must be read in their original settings. When we come to the psalms and we read about a person who suffers, enters the gates of hell, and then experiences life eternal, it is not taking things out of context to believe that this is a prophecy which was never fulfilled in the days of David. To read Psalm 16, 22, 41, and 69 as Messianic fulfilled at the first coming of Jesus Messiah is not using a sensus plenior type of hermeneutic. This is not reading back what is not there.
A sensus plenior type of hermeneutic would be to take a truth and actually change the original intent. For instance, to take a passage which applies to Israel, say that it now has changed because of the NT, and then to reason that what the author originally intended was God’s true people meaning the church; that would be sensus plenior. To take the kingdom as prophesied in the psalms as existing here on earth and change it to a heavenly kingdom which will never exist on earth would also be changing the original intent of the prophecies. Another example would be to say that the Davidic throne is now in heaven even though the original context of this was a throne in Jerusalem (Zion) reigning over the nation of Israel [and other Gentile nations brought into subservience after David’s reign had been inaugurated].
The prophecies concerning the kingdom must be taken in their original context. David as a prophet saw his own life and his kingdom as a picture of the Messiah and the Messianic Kingdom. He spoke of the Messiah and the Messianic Kingdom quite frequently in the scriptures. When we read about this Messianic Kingdom, we know that the complete manifestation remains in the future. There are two scriptural reasons to affirm this.
#1- Jesus spoke a parable concerning the timing of His kingdom in Luke 19:11-27. He discloses here that He will be leaving and not returning until He receives the kingdom. He only returns after He has received the kingdom. At that point in time He orders the slaughter of His enemies. The work of the kingdom will continue here on earth until His return. That work will impact the kingdom here on earth, even though the kingdom has not yet come. So the kingdom remains future since Messiah’s second coming remains yet future. Note the continuity between the current work and the kingdom come.
#2- NT scripture also divides Messianic prophecies into two categories, the suffering prophecies and the glory prophecies. In Luke 24:26 and I Peter 1:11 the progression is the same. First there is the suffering fulfilled at His first coming. Second is the glory fulfilled at His second coming. The glory prophecies would be everything in the OT which speaks of the glorious kingdom of the Messiah contained so descriptively in the psalms.
To go back and change these original prophecies into some type of heavenly thing is to utilize sensus plenior. But to read these prophecies as Messianic, future, and here on earth is to take them in their original context, or should I write, to apply a grammatical-historical-literary hermeneutic. We cannot change the original intent of David, but we can understand it more fully since we have a more sure word of prophecy. We understand better which prophecies apply to the first coming and which apply to the second coming. It is not sensus plenior to understand these issues better than David understood. That’s the advantage of prophecies fulfilled in our day which were not fulfilled in David’s day.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman