Who will rescue us? The question is risky. The wrong answer, in a time of fear, can lead to violence and tyranny, especially if trust we in human saviors. The right answer can finally bring us safely home.
The Bible is an account of refugees. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, they were exiled from their garden home. The history of Israel, too, is a history of refugees; first, as slaves in Egypt, and later as a nation in exile. Their story is our story, too. The gospel is a message of how God restores broken people and brings them back to safety. He does this through the only “strong man” who can be trusted: Jesus, the promised Messiah!
Identifying the promise
Many misunderstand Jesus’ messianic role or even reject him. Why is this? What are the keys to understanding his identity?
When Jesus was born there was much debate about the promised messiah. This was due to the slow and mysterious way that the Bible had painted the picture of the coming savior. The first clue had come when the Lord told Adam and his wife that a descendent of Eve would crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15). So there was an early promise that evil would be defeated and that the curse would be lifted. But when and how would this take place?
As the Lord worked in history, more pieces to the puzzle were revealed. There was the developing promise of a coming descendent: first of Eve, then of the patriarch Abraham (Gen 17:19) and finally of Kind David (Psalm 2:7). There were promises about various anointed figures (priests, prophets and kings). The promised one was clearly a chosen servant (Isaiah 42:1); yet other texts pointed to a heavenly being (Daniel 7:13). Where would all these trajectories lead?
Jewish literature written around the time of the New Testament did not have a well-formed picture about the messiah. There were multiple and often conflicting portraits. In the desire to be free of Roman rule, some in Israel looked for a warrior king. People, like us, naturally wanted protection. Because the Jewish priests had become influential, some focused on a coming priestly messiah. Wasn’t it the priest who who could deal through sacrifices with sin and shame, and mediate between God and the people? Others turned away from the political influences in Israel, and looked for a teacher of righteousness. It was the prophet, after all, who could speak God’s Word and show the way forward. Each tried to justify their picture of the messiah from the Old Testament.
A shocking revelation
Even for the first followers of Christ there was confusion. It was only towards the end of Jesus’ ministry that the apostles began to see the complete picture. In the midst of such misunderstanding, the Apostle Peter’s confession was shocking. In response to the Lord’s question about his identity, Peter said, “You are the Christ (i.e., the Messiah) the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
In Jesus the promises finally came together. Christ served as a magnet, drawing the many Old Testament fragments into place. In him the various trajectories found their goal. The puzzle pieces suddenly formed a complete portrait. The Messiah would be both a Davidic king and a royal priest (Psalm 110:1, 4; Hebrew 7). The Messiah would be both a suffering servant (Isaiah 53; Philippians 2:4-8 and the glorious Son of God (Philippians 2:9-11; John 1:4, 18). He would be both a human being and the divine Savior.
It can still be difficult for people to recognize Jesus as the promised messiah and savior of the world. There are three keys for understanding his identity. First, one must be willing to carefully search the Scriptures. It is here that the puzzle pieces come together. Second, one must be willing to learn from Christ with an open mind (Matthew 11:29). Most importantly we need God to open our eyes to the truth. When the Apostle Peter who had both studied the Scriptures and learned at the feet of Jesus finally saw the answer, Christ told him that it was not people who had revealed the truth to him, “but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 16:17; 11:27).
We may feel like refugees today; this is an honest feeling. God offers to rescue us through Jesus. He is the perfect prophet, who can teach us the way; the effective priest who can finally remove our guilt and shame; and he is the victorious king who can defend us against every evil power. May the Lord help us to find in Christ our “strong man,” who can lead us all the way home.
Daniel J. Ebert IV, PhD, is Director of Graduate Programs and Affiliate Professor of NT at Trinity International University (Kendall) he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.