Home > New Testament > Jesus the End of Exile, Part 2

Jesus the End of Exile, Part 2

Before considering Matthew 2:16-18 we have to go back to the Old Testament.  Failing to give the land rest and obey God’s commandments (2 Chro 36:21), Judah was taken into captivity (to Babylon) and Israel was assimilated with the Assyrians.  Prior to going into Babylonian exile God promised he would bring his people back to the land and restore them.  The prophets foretold a day of national and cosmic restoration where Israel would dwell safely in the land and God’s presence would be with his people (read all of the pre-exilic prophets).  However, upon returning to the land under the leadership of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel the Israelites found that things were not what the pre-exilic prophets had foretold.  There was still sin in the land, the people were living under foreign power (the Medo-Persians), and the temple was not better or even comparable to Solomon’s temple.  The message of the post-exilic prophets becomes very important for two reasons. 

1.) They reveal that the return to the land does not fulfill God’s purposes of restoration. 

2.) They fill out or define in a deeper way what God’s restoration will look like (see Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi). 

Although Cyrus king of Persia allowed the Israelites to return to the land, the promises of God remained unfulfilled.  Though they were allowed to return to the land of their fathers, foreign rule characterized their existence and in that sense they continued to remain in exile.  They had no king or kingdom of their own; rather they continued to live under foreign kings and foreign kingdoms.  After Cyrus, came the rule of Alexander the Great and his generals, and then the rule of the Romans, all of which continued to rule and oppress the Israelites.  During the intertestamental era foreign oppression remained, which lead to many conflicts between the Jewish people and their enemies.  However, when Matthew writes his gospel he begins by demonstrating Jesus as the king, the inauguration of his kingdom, and the end to exile. 

Matthew highlights several important themes from the life of Jesus to demonstrate his kingship and the end of exile for the Jewish people. 

1.) The genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1:1-17).  We see that the genealogy of Jesus, which traces his kingly lineage (in contrast to Luke’s genealogy which traces his physical lineage), begins by stating “Jesus the Messiah, son of David and son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1).  Matthew is establishing with this genealogical record that Jesus is the promised seed of Abraham (cf., Gal 3:16) and the promised king to rule on David’s throne (2 Sam 7:14).  Moreover, we see that Matthew makes special note of the Babylonian exile (Matt 1:11).  However, you may notice that although Matthew picks up the genealogy after the exile, he does not explicitly state that the exile is over.  This point will become crucial when we look at Matthew 2:16-18 more closely.

2.) Matthew quotes from Isaiah and Micah (Matt 1:21-23; 2:5-6; Isa 7:14; 8:10; 9:6; Mic 5:2).  The references to God with his people are obviously speaking of Jesus with the people, but the quotations also draw our attention to the prophet Ezekiel.  In Ezekiel 34:11ff we see God as a great shepherd who will seek his people and care for them.  Tied to this promise of God’s restoration is that he will not only seek and save his people, but he will appoint his servant David to shepherd them (Ezek 34:23; 37:24-28).  The connection in Ezekiel is that this king to come (one who has the heart and mind of David) will be God’s anointed shepherd and will care for God’s people as he cares for them himself.  Jesus is that shepherd (John 10:1ff) who comes to dwell, save, and shepherd God’s people.  Matthew elaborates on the Isaiah texts by following up with Micah 5:2 (Matt 2:5-6).  You will notice that the quotation is recorded in the account of Herod’s fear of a future Jewish king.  Matthew’s connection between Micah 5:2 and Herod’s insecurity about a Jewish king ties in with the previous statements found in Ezekiel where God’s anointed servant is identified with God himself as a true shepherd and true king of the people.

3.) God’s king and kingdom extends to all peoples (Matt 2:10-12).  Matthew introduces very early on in his gospel that this king of God’s choosing and his kingdom is not just for the Jews, but for all peoples of the earth by recording the attendance of the Magi and their bearing of gifts to this royal king.  Matthew picks this idea up again in 4:12-17 when he quotes from Isaiah 9:1-2 concerning Jesus as a light to the Gentiles.  In other words, this king is a king for all peoples who trust and follow him.

4.) Jesus the true Israel (Matt 2:13-15).  Matthew records the flight of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus to Egypt to escape King Herod. Matthew uses this opportunity in the narrative to disclose that Jesus is the son called out of Egypt, like Israel was called out of Egypt.  Quoting from Hosea 11:1 Matthew applies the Old Testament text to Jesus; thus, concluding that Jesus is the true son or the true Israel (Exo 4:22-23).  Jesus is not only a faithful son, but unlike Israel, he is the faithful son who does not fail in the wilderness when tempted (Matt 4:1-11).

In addition, Luke discloses that Jesus is the faithful son.  Jesus as God’s Son is baptized as the Spirit descends upon him and the heavenly voice declares, “you are my beloved Son, in you I am well-pleased” (Luke 3:21-22).  Jesus is the Son of God and now he is a son in a long line of sons; sons who failed at some level to be the one true and faithful son.  Luke’s genealogy is unique in that it traces all the way back to Adam and uses the son motif to describe Jesus’ genealogy.  At the conclusion of the genealogy this son is full of the Spirit and is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted.  Here this Son does not fail in the wilderness (nor in the garden as Adam did), but is faithful to God.  Jesus in the wilderness is tempted just like Israel was in the wilderness. The people grumbled against the Lord and demanded bread in the wilderness and God was gracious to provide for them (Deut 8:3), but this son recognizes that man does not live by bread alone.  The obedience of Christ is in opposition to the disobedience of Israel as they followed after other gods (Deut 6:13).  Finally, the people tested God, but this son does not test God but does everything he sees the Father do (Deut 6:16; John 5:19).  Just like Matthew, Luke recognizes Jesus as the true son, and, thus, the true Israelite. Therefore, it follows that if the true Israel is Jesus and not ethnic Israelites, then it must mean that the position of God’s people in the messianic age is determined by reference to Jesus, not race.

5.) The role of John (Matt 3:1-12).  By quoting from Isaiah 40:3, which speaks of God’s great authority as Lord and great love as savior for his people, Matthew points that John is in fact the Elijah figure who will prepare the way for the Lord as king (Mal 3:1; 4:5-6; cf., Matt 11:7-19; 17:1-13).  Isaiah 40:31 speaks about a great work God will do for his people by bringing them back to himself (wings of eagles).  The same language is used in Exodus 19:3-6 to speak of the first exodus (eagles wings).  God preformed a second exodus by bringing the people back to the land after Babylonian exile, but that exodus did not introduce the prophetic promises of the presence of the Spirit and a New Covenant.  However, Jesus as the great conquering king leads his people on a final exodus from spiritual bondage to heavenly rest (Luke 9:31; Rev 12:14; 15:3; cf., Eph 4:1-10).   Jesus is the king and John is pointing people to this king who will perform a final exodus.  As Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, so this great prophet, priest, and king will bring his people out and introduce a New Covenant where righteousness, peace, and justice will characterize this new redeemed humanity (cf., Jer 31:31-34).  Jesus will bear up his people and feed them in this wilderness journey with himself (cf., John 6:1ff) until they are all brought successfully to that heavenly city (Heb 11:16; 12:22).

Much more could be said about Jesus’ kingship (Acts 2, 1 Cor 15) and fulfillment of the Old Testament, but I suppose that will have to wait for another post.  However, for our present purposes Matthew firmly establishes on numerous fronts that Jesus is the royal king promised in the Old Testament for all peoples and that Jesus is the true Israelite who is faithful to do God’s will.  In the next post we will examine Matthew 2:16-18 and see how Matthew further supports his belief that Jesus is the promised king and the faithful son who does God’s will.  Stay tuned for the final post on Jesus as the end of the exile.

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