God revealed afresh – God Crucified, Part 3

Posted: September 1, 2012 by J in Bible, Book review, Theology
Tags: , ,

PART 3 How Jesus reveals the divine identity

Bauckham begins Part 3 by acknowledging that he has majored so far on the pre-existent and the exalted Christ, and neglected Jesus’ earthly ministry. This now comes into view. And as it does, the issue of identity is turned around: the question becomes, ‘what does Jesus’ inclusion in the divine identity say about God?’ Jesus is not just revealed to be divine, he reveals God. Definitively. What then is revealed about Israel’s God?

Bauckham identifies a key method the NT writers use for doing their thinking about these questions: OT exegesis. “They brought the OT text into relationship with the history of Jesus in a process of mutual interpretation” (p.33). A focal passage for this process is Isaiah 40-55. The NT writers demonstrate an integrated early Christian reading of these chapters as a connected whole, telling the story of a new exodus which brings worldwide salvation. This prophecy has a strong monotheistic emphasis. It is also eschatological: in the coming salvation, Yahweh’s uniqueness will be finally revealed.

Isaiah 52:13 in particular describes the exaltation of the Servant to the throne of God. In his humiliation and exaltation he belongs the the divine identity. Bauckham examines three NT texts which interact with this prophecy. In these texts, the monotheistic motif of Isaiah is interpreted Christologically, especially in relation to the suffering and death of Jesus.

In Philippians 2:6-11, Jesus’ self-abasement is his way of expressing his equality with God, and so qualifies him to enact divine sovereignty. The issue here is status: only the Servant who accepts the lowest place can reveal the most high God. Jesus’ humiliation then belongs to his divine identity as much as his exaltation does.

In Revelation 5, the explosion of praise to God follows the appearance of the slain lamb on the throne. Only the slaughtered lamb finally reveals the sovereignty of God. The cross reveals who God is.

In John’s Gospel the ‘lifted up’ sayings of Christ picture Jesus’ cross as his exaltation, as the event in which Jesus’ divine identity is revealed. The themes of Servant and Lord are fused in John: Jesus reigns at the Cross. So God’s identity is enacted in the salvation event.

In these NT texts God is seen to be revealed definitively as himself only in his self-giving at the cross.

Bauckham then asks, how consistent is this new theology with the OT’s view of the God of Israel?

The OT presents an unfolding revelation of God’s identity, in which there is the expectation of future development and in particular of the unexpected. Isaiah looks for a new exodus that will finally reveal God’s uniqueness. Thus, although it is radical and new to include the human degradation of Jesus in God’s identity, there is room for even this in the OT view of Israel’s God.

How did the early Christians find continuity within the extreme novelty of this revelation? They did it through rereading OT texts creatively in the light of Jesus. He enables new insights and readings not possible before. But these are new readings of Israel’s Scripture: continuity is overtly combined with novelty.

Bauckham gives examples of this: one is the OT theme of God’s identification with the lowly. This is transformed when God appears as the lowly in Jesus crucified. Another relates to the renaming of God in Exodus and again in Matt. 28.

Thus in Jesus God is revealed to the world as Israel’s God and is also revealed afresh.

The study ends with a fascinating comment on the Nicene tradition. In light of what Bauckham has shown us, he can say that Nicene Christology was not a new development, since the earliest church had a full-blown doctrine of Jesus’ divinity. It was rather a restatement of NT theology in Greek categories. But these categories did not allow Nicea to capture the way Jesus reveals God newly. What the cross has to say about God’s identity was not appreciated until Luther, Barth and later theologians.

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