How Did Jesus See Scripture?
I cannot even begin this blog correctly without thanking Andrew Wilson for his excellent book ‘Unbreakable’ which has inspired much of its content. Indeed, I simply stood and preached this message one Sunday with his book in my hand, unashamedly sharing its outstanding content. A link to the book is at the bottom of this page.
It is truly useful to us that our hero and Messiah, Jesus, appears two thirds of the way through our Bible, at the juncture that divides the Old and New Testaments. The reason it’s so powerful is that we get to see and hear how Jesus treated “His Bible”, which was of course, identical to what we now call the Old Testament! Our Old Testament, was His Bible.
Jesus attitude to the concept of scripture can tell us something very powerful about how we are to approach the concept of a “holy book.”
What is immediately obvious is that Jesus quoted A LOT of scripture from those 39 books that we enjoy. He evidently revered the Law (the first 5 books) and the prophets (minor and major prophets in the second half of the Old Testament). Interestingly, He never quoted the writings that have failed to make it into the Old Testament, the apocryphal writings, thereby confirming the choices from Genesis to Malachi.
So how did Jesus speak of the Old Testament? Was He dubious regarding its reliability? Did He question the accuracy?
From the four accounts of the Gospels, these eyewitness accounts show us that Jesus thought of the Law, the Prophets and the Writings as:
Jesus spoke of David’s writings saying “David spoke by the Holy Spirit” (Mark 12:36)…. Showing us that, in His opinion, the very Spirit of God Himself was leading men to write.
When Jesus proclaimed that “scripture must be fulfilled” in Mark 14:49 He was showing us that the Old Testament was a prophetically accurate book, and the fact His time on earth fulfilled over 400 Old Testament prophecies!
As Jesus opened the scriptures to His disciples on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection, they claimed: “weren’t our hearts burning within us” (Luke 24:32). There is something about opening the word of God that causes a fire of recognition to burn within us.
Jesus was very straight forward with those challenging Him when He stated: “You are in error cos you do not know the scriptures” (Matt 22:29). In His opinion, if you misread and misinterpreted His “Bible” you were always going to end up inaccurate in your conclusion about God and life. It’s plain: “You’re wrong because you don’t know the scriptures!”
Interestingly, while some would love to fade certain portions of the Bible into poetic stories and parables, He affirmed events like Noah’s flood and the powerful “fire and brimstone” judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus clearly believed this stuff actually happened and so consigning some of the unusual Old Testament events to analogies and useful myths is not an argument that holds water to Jesus.
While Jesus was a radical development to the Law, the prophet and writings, He did not come to break the law or abolish the law. He came to be the fulfilment of the law!
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17
He didn’t come to break the law, but to BE it!
As Andrew Wilson puts in his excellent book Unbreakable, Jesus fulfilled the law, rather like a ship launches out to sea, fulfils the original plans for the ship! Jesus is The WORD made FLESH!
In fact, Andrew’s book goes on to brilliantly show that all of the Old Testament actually pointed to Jesus and was all about Jesus all along! He writes:
“Jesus is the new Adam, who passed his garden test by submitting to the will of the Father, crushed the snake, and gave life to the dead rather than death to the living. Jesus is the new Eve, the ancestor of all new life, through whom the promised rescue finally comes about. Jesus is the new Abel, whose blood announces that family feuds, murder and death are on the way out, and that subsequent generations will be acquitted rather than condemned. Jesus is the new Enoch, who knows God, walks with him, and is not subject to the power of the grave. Jesus is the new Noah, who finds favour in the eyes of the Lord, and in whom humans are rescued from the judgment they deserve. Jesus is the new Abraham, who trusts God, leaves his homeland to start a new nation, and ends up inheriting the world with his galaxy of descendants. Jesus is the new Isaac, the miraculous child, offered as a sacrifice out of obedience to God, and rescued from death when all seemed lost. Jesus is the new Jacob, who saw heaven opened, received the promises, wrestled with God, and commissioned twelve guys to bless the nations. Jesus is the lion of Judah, praised by his brothers and victorious over his enemies, to whom the whole world brings tribute and obedience. Jesus is the new Joseph, the beloved son who is sold for the price of a slave, abandoned, and left for dead, but who remains faithful and then gets lifted up to the right hand of the King of the world. And that’s just in Genesis.”
Fascinatingly, Jesus spoke of the Law as something that was supernatural, unchangeable and authoritative, right down to the least “stroke of a pen” …
“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Matthew 5:18
Jesus attitude to scripture was that His Hebrew writings were unchangeable. In our language not a cross on a “t” nor a dot on an “i” should be open to change!
Translation, can of course, be inaccurate, but by the expertise involved in the world’s best selling book today is outstanding, and so inaccuracies are minor.
We know some of the Bible is history, while some is poetry, other parts pictorial prophecy, full of imaginative similes, allegories, metaphors and parables while others are letters of plain talking teaching. You know what “Do not covet” means, but need a little time to grasp Ezekiel’s “Wheels within wheels!”
And of course, this doesn’t mean the Bible is always to be taken literally! It contains hyperbole, exaggeration of a point to make it more impactful. We know not to cut off our hands or pluck out our eyes if we sin! We know that in Luke 14:26 when Jesus says “If any man comes to me and hate not his father and mother…” he doesn’t mean Christianity is about hating fathers and mothers, because the Bible clearly tells us to honour them. So the Bible must be read in entirety to grasp when the hyperbole is trying to shock us into taking something seriously, but not literally.
Having said all that, Jesus affirms clearly, none of it is changeable!
In Matthew 13:52 Jesus says “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
To Jesus, the Old Testament and the Old Covenant were precious treasure! Something to be loved, kept, honoured, enjoyed and cherished.
But He also said, “new treasures” were coming too! He was bringing about a New Covenant that fulfilled the longings of the Old, and there was going to be a New Testament, a new sacred writing, to stand alongside the old as well! Treasures, old and new!
Luke tells us that Jesus “…opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45). This tells us that something of an unveiling needs to happen deep inside us to truly grasp what the Bible is about. It is mysterious and its true relevance to our lives may need some “revealing.”
He also stated that mental, forensic, expert understanding of the text wasn’t enough. It was a heart response that was required. In fact, Jesus saved many of His harshest words for the experts in the Law, not the novices! “Woe to you experts in the law,” he said repeatedly (Luke 11:37,46,52) acknowledging the fact that a mental study of the words didn’t mean God’s will would take root in your heart! A great humility was required to embrace the true meaning of the Law.
And finally, while the Old Testament was indeed mysterious in places, in many ways the essentials are incredibly clear! It is not all mysterious at all – and actually our greatest issues don’t usually come from mysteries and perceived inconsistencies that discredit the scriptures. The bits of the Bible that cause most controversy are the very clear, obvious bits!
Our issue, if we’re honest, is about authority and preference, not clarity and reliability! The Bible clearly tells you who to have sex with, when not to, who to marry, who not to, the prospect of judgement, how to approach money, the poor, work, relationships and how to love and forgive even your enemies.
And when Jesus was challenged about the difficult scriptures, interestingly He never resorted to blaming the scriptures by conceding “well it isn’t clear… we’ve moved on… maybe it was written wrong.”
No, every time someone questioned Jesus about a challenging scripture He would respond with retorts like “Are you still so dull?” “Are you still without understanding”, “You’re wrong because you don’t understand the scriptures”, “Do you now perceive?” “Your tradition nullifies the word of God.”
Every objection to the Holy Scriptures Jesus laid right back at our own dullness and hard-heartedness. It was never the fault of scripture, always the fault of our own perception. That is quite a challenge!
Finally, regarding Jesus perception of the scriptures He loved, our Old Testament, it is interesting to note how He then spoke of His own words, right alongside the authoritative words of the Old Testament. He said things like:
“As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like.” Luke 6:47
“Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” John 14:10
“…and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20
“Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” John 14:23
In Matthew 5, Jesus repeatedly uses the phrase, “You have heard it said, but I say…” in which He pushes deeper into the holy standards of God’s people, but in doing so He shows that, according to these eyewitnesses, Jesus repeatedly considered His own words as important as the Holy Scriptures He revered so much! To Jesus, the Old Testament was divine, and the Gospels full of instructions that were equally precious.
So the Bible, according to Jesus…is
- GOD BREATHED
- A TREASURE
Andrew Wilson’s book Unbreakable is available here – I highly recommend it! https://www.amazon.co.uk/Unbreakable-Andrew-Wilson/dp/1909611867/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=unbreakable+andrew+wilson&qid=1582812257&sr=8-1
Coming up next time… Facing the tough questions!
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