The Sin-Bearing, Curse-Removing True Israel
There are two theological truths that structure the entirety of the biblical storyline. The first is that Jesus is the second and last Adam. The second is that Jesus is the true and greater Israel.* The totality of the biblical narrative can be understood in light of these two theological categories. Additionally, the whole of the Gospel is structured by these two great truths. Jesus is the sin-bearing, curse-removing second Adam and true Israel. While much has been written on the former, until recent years the latter has been largely overlooked. Matthew 2:14-15 indicates that Jesus came to recapitulate Israel's history in order to fulfill the covenant promises for His people. Just as "He came to undo what Adam did and to do what Adam failed to do," so "He came to undo what Israel did and to do what Israel failed to do" as the representative of His elect. In the first post in this series, we considered how Jesus in the sin-bearing, curse-removing second Adam; in this post we will briefly consider how he is the sin-bearing, curse-removing true Israel. In order to do so, we must consider how the covenant curses and the cross of Christ are inter-connected.
When God entered into Covenant with Israel He did so by calling the collective covenant community, "My Son" (Exodus 4:22). As Adam was protological "son of God" (Luke 3:38) by virtue of his covenantal relationship with God before the fall, so Israel became the typological "son of God" by virtue of God's collective covenantal dealings with the people (Exodus 4:22). Just as Adam was given the Law of God, so Israel was given the Law of God (Romans 5:13-14). Adam was given promise of blessing (as typified in the Sabbath Day) and promise of curse (in the threat pronounced upon disobedience): Israel was given promise of blessing and curses (Deut. 27-28; 30). The Law demanded perfect and continual obedience if Israel was to get the covenant blessings of God (Deut. 27:26; Gal. 3:10). If the Law was not kept perfectly, curses were the inevitable outcome. The legal demand of the Law with it's subsequent promise of blessing and curse was meant to make Israelites looks away from themselves and to the One who was promised to come into the world to crush the serpents head (Genesis 3:15), the promised seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16-18).
When Jesus began his ministry, the events surrounding it were meant to draw the minds of the people back to Israel's history and thereby show that the true and greater Israel had arrived. Israel was, after all, not first and foremost a nation, but a person. Jacob was renamed Israel because the true and greater Israel (of whom Jacob was typical) would come and bless the people by taking the curse upon Himself. After going down into Egypt and coming out of Egypt as a young child, Jesus started His ministry by reconfiguring Israel with 12 disciples (rather than 12 tribes), going through the water (i.e. His baptism paralleling the Red Sea crossing) into the wilderness (paralleling Israel's temptation in the wilderness) up on the mountain (paralleling Moses going up and giving the Law to Israel) and down from the mountain to lead His people forward. After recapitulating the Kingly (Matthew 12) and Prophetic (Matthew 23) era, Jesus was exiled at the cross when "he was cut off from the land of the living" (Numbers 19:20; Deut. 28:63 and Isaiah 53:8). In His resurrection, our Lord brought about all of the restoration prophecies in the Major and Minor Prophets in order to spiritualize and eternalize them for all who would believe in Him.
As important as all this is for understanding how Jesus merits the covenant blessings for HIs people, the emphasis in Scripture is on His sufferings on the cross when he "became a curse for us" (Gal. 3:13). Just as he took the curse of Adam upon Himself in His sufferings, so Jesus took the curse of the Law upon Himself on the cross. Jesus said "Yes!" to the covenant curses so that He the covenant blessings would be "Yes!" and "Amen" in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20). One of the curses of the Law that fell on Him was "darkness." One of the most severe of the plagues on Egypt was the thick darkness. There was an exponential judgment in the plagues. Thick darkness was the second to last plague. The covenant curses pronounces over Israel were commensurate with the plagues of judgment that God sent on Egypt (Deut. 28:59). In Scripture, darkness represents the loss of God's presence and favor. Light, by way of contrast, (being the first of God's acts in creation) denoted blessing. Men could see the glory of God in the world by virtue of His light. When Jesus spoke of eternal judgment, He did so under the figure of darkness. One of the most common figure for Hell in the Gospels is "outer darkness" (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; and 25:30). The Apostle Peter and Jude spoke of eternal judgment for the wicked as "the blackness of darkness forever" (2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13). In the covenant curses threatened in the Law, one of the most severe was darkness. In Deuteronomy 28:29 we read, "you shall grope at noonday, as a blind man gropes in darkness; you shall not prosper in your ways; you shall be only oppressed and plundered continually, and no one shall save you." When Jesus hung on the cross, "from the sixth to the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land" (Matt 27:45). Jesus was exiled on the cross. He was suffered the pains of hell, as it were, when he fell under the judgment of God for our sin. The darkness of judgment fell on Him when he became a curse for us.
Coming to understand this is crucial for us to grow in our love for and knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Who but God the Son could take our place, become a curse for us and thereby remove that eternal curse due to our sin? Who but Jesus could substitute Himself for us so that we might have the light of life? It was necessary that Jesus receive what has been called "the anti-Aaron blessing" when He hung on the cross that we might receive the blessing of God's presence and goodness for all eternity. Instead of hearing "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you and give you peace," Jesus heard, "the Lord curse you and cast you off; the Lord hide His face from you and pour out His wrath on you; the Lord hide the light of His countenance form you and give you turmoil" as he hung on the cross. It is because "He became a curse for us," that we--who believe in Him--receive all the blessings of Abraham, forever.
*For a more detailed explanation of Jesus as true Israel see the audio and video of the lecture I gave on it at New Covenant PCA.