"The more deeply we probe the Jewish and Old Testament roots of the gospel narratives, the more clearly we come to see that each of the four evangelists in diverse ways are identifying Jesus as the embodiment of the God of Israel.”
When we talk about the deity of Jesus we usually speak of Him being both divine and human, co-eternal, pre-existent, etc. with terms and jargon associated with the doctrine of the Trinity. All of this is fine and serves a purpose when trying to hammer out the details of Jesus’ nature. But I would like to offer a fresh way of understanding the nature of Jesus, one that is Biblical and in tune with how the Gospel writers portray Jesus. The view I want to present is summarized nicely by Richard B. Hays: “The more deeply we probe the Jewish and Old Testament roots of the gospel narratives, the more clearly we come to see that each of the four evangelists in diverse ways are identifying Jesus as the embodiment of the God of Israel.” The Gospel writers constantly allude to, echo, and quote the Hebrew scriptures–they are the matrix in which the Gospels, and in this case, Jesus, need to be understood. All of the examples in this blog are from Richard B. Hays’s “Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness”. Hays has produced the most cutting edge work on intertextuality, so if you haven’t read his work then you absolutely need to.
In Luke 13:34 Jesus laments over a disobedient Jerusalem that is about to undergo divine judgment:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often I have desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
For a reader or listener who is steeped in Israel’s sacred scriptures, the imagery of a bird spreading her wings to protect her young evokes the imagery used in the OT where God is depicted metaphorically as a bird spreading its wings to protect Israel:
Deuteronomy 32:10-12 “In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft. The Lord alone led him; no foreign god was with him.”
Psalm 91:1-4a “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.”
In Luke 13 Jesus casts Himself into the role of Yahweh by creating an intertextual link to various passages in which God’s providence is depicted metaphorically as a bird spreading its wings to protect Israel. Jesus uses the imagery and applies it to Himself. It is also important to note that in Luke’s narrative Jesus made no prior visits to Jerusalem, yet he laments that he has often desired to gather her children and she was not willing!
In Mark 4:35-41 the disciples approach Jesus in fear of the raging storm that is about to overcome them and cause them to drown. After Jesus rebukes and calms the storm, the disciples, in awe, ask each other: “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey Him?”
Mark purposefully leaves the leading question unanswered, which is typical of his gospel. He wants the reader to engage in the mystery and elusiveness of Jesus’ identity, mission and teachings, which the disciples seem to be confused about throughout. Mark does not spoon-feed the reader like the other Gospel writers do (see Matthew 16:12, for example), but he expects the reader to be diligent enough to figure it out. For any reader well acquainted with Israel’s sacred scriptures, which serve as the background to Mark’s Gospel, there is only one right answer to the disciples’ question:
Psalm 107:23-29 “Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away [cf. Mark 4:40]. They reeled and staggered like drunkards; they were at their wits’ end. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.”
According to Psalm 107, the answer to their question is that Jesus is Yahweh, the One whom the wind and sea obey. This also resonates with various Old Testament passages that depict God as the one who subdues chaos which is represented by unruly waters (if you aren’t familiar with the ancient significance of water and chaos then click here for a great 5-minute breakdown). As Hays points out, once we familiarize ourselves with the Jewish roots of the Gospels it becomes evident that Jesus is the embodiment of Israel’s God.
There are tons of examples of this phenomenon in the Gospels. It's a beautiful and unique way of presenting Jesus as God. Another blog on this topic will be coming soon!