surprise

The Twist that Reframes the Whole Story

Many people read the Bible as if everything written within it is equally authoritative. As a result, people read it along the lines of a cookbook. Like a recipe, the meaning and authority of a passage aren’t much affected by where the passage is located within the overall book. The truth, however, is that the Bible is not at all like a cookbook. It’s a story, along the lines of a novel. And it’s a story with a very surprising twist.

The Bible could be compared to the movie The Sixth Sense, starring Bruce Willis. In it, the last few minutes reveals an unexpected twist that requires you to rethink every single thing that took place previously. The whole Old Testament leads up to, and is fulfilled in, Jesus the Messiah. But the particular way Jesus fulfills it reframes everything. Hardly anyone saw this coming! In fact, Jesus completes the story of God’s dealings with Israel in a way that was so unexpected, most who were looking for the Messiah couldn’t accept him once he came.

For example, most Jews were looking for a Messiah who would reinforce Israel’s status as God’s favored nation by leading a revolt against its oppressors (the Romans) and reinstating it as a sovereign nation. Jesus instead turned Jewish religious nationalism on its head. His message inaugurated a kingdom that included “outsiders” (gentiles) and his way was one of loving enemies instead of revolting against them.

In fact, not only does Jesus not lead people in a military conquest over their enemies, he allows himself to be executed on a cross to reveal God’s profound love for enemies. And in this scandalous and unexpected action, his followers discerned the ultimate revelation of God’s true nature. With his life, ministry, teaching, and especially his sacrificial death, Jesus provided a picture of God and his kingdom that forces us to reframe everything that led up to him.

This means that we should read the Old Testament through the lens of the revelation of God in Christ, and especially through the lens of the cross, which sums up everything Jesus was about. This is how Jesus himself suggested we should read the Scripture when he taught that all Scripture is about him (Luke 24:25-27; John 5:39-47). It is also implied by Paul’s teaching that the Spirit has removed the “veil” over our “hearts” and “minds” (2 Cor 3:14-16) so that we can now see the “glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ” as we read Scripture. And it’s reflected in the way various authors of the New Testament read the Old Testament. In sharp contrast to the common teaching of modern evangelicals that Bible interpreters should always stick to the “original intended meaning” of a passage, the way New Testament authors use the Old Testament reflects little concern with this. Their primary concern was rather to see how it points to Jesus.

—Adapted from Benefit of the Doubt, pages 176-183

Photo credit: HckySo via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC

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