Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Sunday Scripture

Mark 12:35-37

12:35-37 – At this point in Mark’s narrative, Jesus has answered and bested all debaters who have been lofting tricky questions at him (11:27-12:34). So he takes the opportunity to get in a point of his own, a point hinting at his true identity. And he does it by using Scripture. Jesus could very well speak from his own authority, but he knows that for his audience at the Temple Mount, it is the argument made from Scripture that they will most respect. His insightful exegesis is an encouragement to us, to make sure that deep and thoughtful treatment of the Scriptures is at the core of how we learn and teach our doctrine. For his teaching, he chooses a text that was widely believed to refer to the Messiah, Psalm 110:1 (the same psalm that Hebrews 6:20 takes as Messianic, in its prophecy about a new “priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek”). Here he pushes the case that, if this psalm is to be believed, the Messiah should not merely be considered the son of David, but divine. Here, in a brilliantly short piece of exposition, Jesus stakes several implicit claims about the Messiah. First, that he is divine. He points out that David calls the Messianic figure “Lord” in the first line—“The Lord said to my Lord.” It’s clear from the text that the first “Lord” refers to God the Father; in the Hebrew that word is YHWH, the personal name for God. But the second “Lord” is unclear—no one from the narrative of David’s life seems to fit this character, whom David would have called “Lord.” Thus the tradition developed that this was a reference to the coming Messiah. But if David calls him Lord, then the Messiah is greater than even the most honored king in all of Israel’s history. Further, the second “Lord” uses a word in Hebrew that can also be used as a name for God, Adonai. This word, like our word “lord,” can, on the other hand, also mean “master.” But in the ancient Greek version of this verse, which Mark has Jesus quoting, the same word is used for both “Lords”—the word kyrios, which in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) was the customary name to translate references to God, including the divine name YHWH. Thus Jesus draws out the implicit divinity of the Messiah from this verse, noting that even David must call him “Lord.” Second, this verse implies the pre-existence of the Messiah. This was not a widespread expectation for the coming Messiah among Jews at the time, but it clearly fits when we take the Messiah to be a divine figure. The psalm appears to suggest that the second “Lord” is in intimate communion with the first “Lord” (God the Father), and that David knew them both. That is to say, the Messiah was not simply a future figure to David, but a present reality. This fits perfectly with what Christians have always believed about Jesus the Messiah being the incarnation of the pre-existent Son of God. Third, this verse implies a plurality in the Godhead. If the Messiah is taken to be divine, and the Septuagint refers to both “Lords” by use of the divine name, then this demonstrates another point that Christians have always held: although we confess one God in nature and essence, we acknowledge that he exists in a union of plurality, in three persons united in nature, essence, and love so fully that they are in fact one God. Jesus cleverly drives this part of it home not only by drawing attention to the doubled form of “Lord,” from which one could infer the persons of God the Father and God the Son, but also by prefacing the quote by a direct reference to the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Mark notes that this teaching of Jesus, at once so clearly grounded in the accepted, sacred Scriptures of the entire audience, and yet at the same time offering a fresh and startling perspective on them, delighted his listeners. For any believer in Christ, who knows him intimately (more intimately, even, than David could have dreamed of knowing), these great truths about our Triune God are still, and ever shall be, our delight.

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