Jesus in the Old Testament

Mon, 19/08/2019 - 10:30 -- James Oakley

It's funny how an issue looks different depending on who you're talking to.

When I was at college, my third year dissertation was looking at the faith of the Old Testament saints. How much about God and the gospel did Abraham know? Is he an example that it's possible to be saved without explicitly knowing about Jesus? Or did he know more than we give him credit for.

One of the people I was engaging with was a man by the name of Paul Blackham. I stand by everything I said in engaging with his views, although (with hindsight) it's possible that in my relative youth, 15 years ago, the manner in which I addressed him was a little harsh and uncharitable. Paul, if you're reading this, my apologies for those points where my tone was unhelpfully aggressive.

One of the things I found myself reacting to was the way that Paul and others (such as James Borland) were saying at the time was that every time we meet "the angel of the Lord" in the Old Testament, it's Jesus appearing in pre-incarnate human form. My concern was to guard the full humanity of Jesus. Prior to the incarnation, he had no human nature. He took on a full human nature from the moment of his conception, which means his humanity was genuinely new at the moment of conception.

Talk to Paul Blackham, or James Borland, and I find myself wanting to point out that Jesus hadn't yet been born. [I see that Vern Poythress has a new book out - I'd love to have a read of that.]

But what if you have a different interlocutor?

If you watch Episode 8 of Series 1 of the Amazon Prime Original drama series, New Amsterdam, you meet a rabbi talking to the medical director and lead character of the drama, Dr Max Goodwin. Max is asking the rabbi why he has no fear of death. He tells him the story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac, Genesis 22.

A little later on, the two talk again, and Max asks whether Abraham went through with the sacrifice. The rabbi explains that he did not, because God sent an angel to tell him he'd passed the test without going through with the sacrifice.

I found myself screaming at the telly to mention the ram that died instead of Isaac that day, and of how the "test" was actually about the wonder that Abraham "did not spare his son, his only son, Isaac whom you love".

But I also found myself screaming that God did not just send "an angel", but "the angel of the Lord".

Isn't it funny how the emphases you notice depend very much on the person to whom you talk? And are there not, surely, lessons here to remember, at all times, the person you are speaking to. If you explain something to one person, as though you were addressing someone else, you'll end up saying the wrong thing entirely.

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