Twentieth Century Theology

Jesus Christ's exegesis 

In the last two centuries, biblical exegesis has produced, with fantastic erudition, an enormous volume of material, although also quite scattered and not always coherent. For this reason, it is worth remembering that Jesus Christ himself made an explicit exegesis, which is the key to all believing exegesis. 

Juan Luis Lorda-May 16, 2022-Reading time: 7 minutes

It is an exercise that must be done and that we can only outline here. We should begin with the Emmaus scene (Lk. 24:13-35). There the Lord, to those disciples saddened and disconcerted by his humiliating death in Jerusalem, rebukes them: "Fools and dull of heart to believe all that the Prophets announced! Was it not necessary that the Christ [the Messiah] should suffer these things and so enter into His glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures that which referred to Him."

The Messiah and the Servant of God 

Unfortunately, the text does not include the Lord's references. The mention of the Law and the Prophets is a traditional Jewish resource, but it also recalls the mysterious scene of the transfiguration, where Jesus appeared glorious before his disciples, with Moses and Elijah. And, according to St. Luke, "they spoke of his departure, which was to be fulfilled in Jerusalem." (Lk 9:31). The most important aspect of this exegesis is that Christ unites the figure, in principle glorious and triumphant, of the Messiah, prophet and King, with the need to suffer, which is expressed in the songs of Isaiah's Servant of the LORD and in the psalms of the persecuted righteous, especially Psalm 22, which the Evangelists apply at length to the Lord. 

The disciples had recognized him as the Messiah by the testimony of John the Baptist about the anointing with the Holy Spirit and by the signs and miracles, especially the expulsion of demons. Israel preserved, depending on the case, a strong messianic tradition, related to the restoration of Israel and illustrated by a multitude of biblical texts. Above all, with the expectation of a new prophet on a par with Moses; "God will raise up from among your brethren a prophet like me." (Dt 18:15); able to "talk to God face to face"The Lord, for example, explicitly assumes this tradition when he enters Jerusalem on a colt, deliberately fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah (9:9), amidst the enthusiasm of his disciples (Mt 21:4-5; Jn 12:14-15).  

How the Kingdom will be made

Since the figure of the Messiah was linked to the restoration of Israel, a strong and liberating solution was expected. A Messiah capable of defeating the enemies. Of course, they did not expect a Messiah who would be defeated by the enemies. It is striking that the Gospels record three announcements of the Lord about his passion (Mk 8:31-32; 9:30-32; 10:32-34), which disconcert the disciples and provoke Peter's reproach (Mt 16:22-24). 

No matter how many variants the Messiah figure might have, they expected a triumph. If not, how could he restore Israel? The Acts of the Apostles records the anxiety of the disciples before the Risen One: "Those who were gathered there asked him this question. Lord, is it now that you are going to restore the Kingdom of Israel?". Evidently it was necessary to broaden and transcend the notion of this Kingdom. Otherwise, how could he eschatologically congregate all nations? In fact, Jesus prefers to use "Kingdom of God". 

To those disciples anxious for the restoration of Israel he explained for almost three years with parables that the Kingdom is already in them as a leaven, and that it will grow little by little until the end of time. He knew that they could not yet understand him. In addition, "after his passion, he appeared to them with many proofs: he appeared to them for forty days and spoke to them concerning the Kingdom of God." (Acts 1:3).

What was most disconcerting for the disciples was the passage from a political liberation, within the history of the world, to a liberation from sin, the argument of cosmic history, of a fallen creation. The exegesis of Christ unites and counterbalances the two main figures, Messiah and Servant of God, and thus changes the time and nature of liberation. It will not be within human history, although it will spread as a leaven in human history. Nor will it be done in the human way, with economic, political and military means. So how is it going to be done?

The Law, the Prophets and the Psalms

Let us return to St. Luke, at the end of the Emmaus scene, when the disciples discover the Lord, he disappears, and they return to Jerusalem with enthusiasm. And there Jesus Christ appears again. After teaching them "hands and feet" with the prints of the nails (which the Risen One will keep eternally) he says to them: "This is what I was telling you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms about me. Then he opened their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures: Thus it is written, that the Christ must suffer and rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins must be preached in his name." (Lk 24:44-45). 

Let us look at the exegesis of Christ: "That which is written in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms."In which passages? The evangelists do not mention them. But it is possible to know indirectly, looking at those used by the first Christian tradition. Not so much the messianic passages, since those could already be expected to apply to Christ, but precisely those that refer to the fact that "Christ must suffer and rise again." and to be preached "forgiveness of sins". We can only give a few brush strokes on a huge subject that includes the relationship of Jesus Christ with the Servant Songs and with the Psalms and the question of the "fulfillment" of the Scriptures in Him. 

The Acts of the Apostles   

The scene of the eunuch of the Ethiopian queen Candace, whom Philip meets on the road, is sympathetic and significant. The eunuch is sitting in the carriage reading: "Like sheep he was led to the slaughter..." (Is 53:7-8). And he asks Philip: "Pray tell me of whom the prophet says this.". And Philip "beginning with this passage he proclaimed to him the Gospel of Jesus." (Acts 8:26-40). He applies to Jesus Christ one of the songs of the Servant of Yahweh.

The five great "discourses" that appear in the first part of Acts are very significant. There the disciples are forced to explain the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, applies some verses from Psalm 16 (15): "Thou shalt not forsake my soul in hells nor let thy Holy One see corruption." (Acts 2:17). In addition, from 110: "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool."which the Lord himself had used (Mk 12:36) and which Christians relate from the beginning to the prophecy of Daniel (7:13) and the ascension of Christ to glory (to the right hand of the Father).

In the temple, Peter preaches: "God has fulfilled what He foretold by the mouth of the prophets, that His Christ would suffer. Repent therefore and be converted so that your sins may be blotted out." (Acts 3:18). And, by the way, he then recalls the prophet promised by Moses. And before the Sanhedrin, which calls them to ask for explanations, he uses Psalm 118: "The stone rejected by architects is now the cornerstone."which the Lord himself had used (cf. Lk 20:17). And, on being freed, he recalls Psalm 2: "Princes have allied themselves against the Lord and against his Christ." (Acts 4:26). Again before the Sanhedrin, he declares: "Him God exalted at His right hand as Prince and Savior, to grant forgiveness of sins to Israel." (Acts 5:31). When Stephen was led to martyrdom, he recalled the prophecy of Moses ("a prophet like me") and go to Christ "standing at the right hand of God." (Acts 7:55). 

The exegesis made by the Baptist

Here, on the other hand, the words of the Baptist at the beginning of the Gospel of St. John converge. "He saw Jesus coming toward him and said, 'Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.'". And after testifying to the manifestation of the Holy Spirit on Jesus at the moment of Baptism, the text continues: "The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. And noticing Jesus passing by, he said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God!' The two disciples heard him speak this way and followed Jesus." (1, 35-37). They were John and Andrew, who then sought out his brother Peter and said to him: "We have found the Messiah." (1,41).

It is interesting to note that John unites from the beginning the figure of Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah with that of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Twice he attributes to Jesus to be the "Lamb of God."This image, apart from the Apocalypse (where it is used 24 times), does not appear explicitly in other texts. Although St. John assimilates Christ to the Paschal Lamb, when already dead, they do not break his legs. "that the Scripture might be fulfilled which says they shall not break any of his bones." (Jn 19:36; Ps 34:21, Ex 12:46; Num 9:12). It was forbidden to break the bones of the Passover lamb. And the evangelists emphasize that Christ dies "at the hour of nona".Friday, when the Passover lambs were sacrificed, after exclaiming: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"The beginning of Psalm 22 (23) and expression of the persecuted righteous. 

We owe to the Protestant exegete Joachim Jeremiah the observation that Ratzinger makes in his Jesus of Nazareth (volume II, chapter 1): "Jeremiah calls attention to the fact that the Hebrew word. talja means lamb as well as servant or servant". (in ThWNT I, 343), thus linking the two things we have been talking about. 

The Letter to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse

The meaning of Christ's death synthesizes the figure of the persecuted and suffering Servant for his fidelity to God with the paschal and sacrificial aspect linked to the lamb. And it has a magnificent liturgical expansion, both in the Letter to the Hebrews and in the Apocalypse. In the Letter to the Hebrews, the sacrificial meaning of the death of Christ, the sacrifice of the New Covenant, made with the Holy Spirit, is magnificently explained; while the Apocalypse underlines the cosmic dimension of this offering of Christ the Lamb celebrated in Heaven. 

The Letter to the Hebrews reasons "biblically" with these elements. In it is very important the memory of Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God, but not a Levite nor of the house of Aaron, like the Jewish priests of the Old Testament. Hence the importance of Psalm 110 (109), applied to Christ: "Thou art an eternal priest according to the rite of Melchizedek."The sin that is the great sin of God's rejection becomes, through Christ's faithfulness, the Christian sacrifice. What is the great sin of the rejection of God becomes, through Christ's faithfulness, the Christian sacrifice. Thus, the death of Christ is the Christian offering and sacrifice that is the founder of the New Covenant. All that the sacrifices could mean of recognition, offering and covenant with God receives a maximum realization in the sacrifice of Christ. "He performed it once and for all by offering himself." (7, 27). "This is the main point of what we have been saying, that we have such a high priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty of heaven". (8, 1-2).

And in the Apocalypse: "You were slain and purchased for God with your blood men of every race, tongue, people and nation; and you have made of them for our God a kingdom of priests." (Rev 5:10); "These follow the lamb wherever it goes and have been ransomed among men as firstfruits to God." (Rev 14:4). 

This gives a new dimension to salvation, to God's forgiveness and to the establishment of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God will not be established politically or militarily, but through the sacrifice of Christ who implores and obtains God's forgiveness ("forgive them, for they know not what they do.") and through the mystical application, first moral and then physical, of Christ's resurrection. Thus the Kingdom of God grows in this world, awaiting the final resurrection. This is the way of the real renewal of persons, which allows us to pass from the old man, the inheritance of Adam, to the new man, in Christ, as St. Paul summarizes for his part.

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