Last of the Old Testament Prophets

(2 of 8 in a series)

In the early chapters of the gospels, John the Baptist arrived on the scene and announced that the coming of the Messiah was imminent.  “As for me, I baptize you in water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not even fit to remove His sandals.  He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean His threshing floor, and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Mt 3:11-12).

Notice the imagery used by John the Baptist.  The great day of salvation and judgment is just around the corner.  John the Baptist is clearly a prophet in the Old Testament mold and as such expects the coming of the Lord to include His judgment; “cleaning His threshing floor and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire.”  One of the proclamations John may have been familiar with referring to the coming Messiah is found in Isaiah 61:1-2.  “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted.  He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God.”  In keeping with many of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah, these verses contain both a rescue and judgment promise.

But a curious thing happened when Jesus of Nazareth, our proclaimed Messiah, showed up.  Jesus downplayed the political aspect, the king aspect, of His identity and the judgment thought to accompany His coming was left out altogether.  In fact, look at Jesus own reading of Isaiah 61 at the start of His earthly ministry.  “And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.  And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him.  And He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.’  And He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon Him.  And He began to say to them, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ “ (Lk 4:16-21).

Remember the last phrase in our Isaiah 61 passage quoted previously:  “and the day of vengeance of our God”?  It is missing in Jesus’ reading in Luke 4.  Is this significant?  Did Jesus just randomly decide He had read enough?  Is it a New Testament typo?  I don’t think so.  It is significant because it fits the nature of the rest of Jesus’ earthly ministry.  Jesus did not come, in His first advent, to fulfill the judgment aspect of the Messiah promise.

Jesus said as much in John 3:17, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him.”  This concept, that Jesus first advent was not to involve the judgment, threw just about everyone off balance regarding His identity.  The Jews were looking for the Messiah King, judgment included.  Even John the Baptist was taken aback.  Remember his prophecy regarding the coming Savior; “cleaning house and burning up the chaff.”  Jesus’ failure to pick up that mantle even had John the Baptist raising questions.  Shortly before his death, John sent his disciples to Jesus to inquire, “Are you the Coming One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Mt 11:3).  This from the prophet who baptized Jesus and heard God’s voice from heaven, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased” (Mt 3:17).  Jesus paraphrased Isaiah 61 in His answer to John’s disciples, “Go and report to John the things which you hear and see:  the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Mt 11:4-5).  Jesus was saying, “You can assure John that I am the Anointed One, the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises.”

What happens next will be the topic of our next post.