We’ve examined and defended many of the divine claims made by Jesus Christ in the Gospel accounts and now it’s time to put them into context. Why did Jesus Christ come to earth and what did He come to accomplish?
What did Jesus come to accomplish on earth? Why did He have to come at all? For many of us who grew up in the church, the question might be one we’ve taken for granted. Throughout our look into the divine claims made by the man Jesus Christ, we’ve picked up a couple of clues as to who He believed He was and what He believed He had come to accomplish. Let’s look a little deeper into those and, hopefully, gain a new perspective into Jesus’ ministry.
For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. (Matthew 3:3)
The famous words of John the Baptist probably provide the clearest window into the promise Jesus came to fulfil. This saying actually comes from one of the prophetic passages in Isaiah 40-55.
The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. (Isaiah 40:3)
The context of this passage is especially enlightening as it prophesizes YHWH’s coming reign and His return to Zion.
O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:9-11)
We see this coming emphasized further along in chapter 52,
Therefore my people shall know my name: therefore they shall know in that day that I am he that doth speak: behold, it is I. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye, when the Lord shall bring again Zion. Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the Lord hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:6-10)
What does all of this mean in the context of Jesus’ mission and purpose? At the time of Jesus’ life on earth, Israel, to put it in simple terms, was not in the best of places. They were up against oppression from Rome and were continually being trampled upon by the military powers of Africa, Asia, and Europe. Jewish Scholar Joseph Klausner notes that “Instead of all nations being subject to Judah, Judah was subject to the nations.” (1) Moreover, since the Assyrian exile (ca. 722 BCE) and the Babylonian exile (ca. 587 BCE), the twelve tribes of Judah had long been scattered. Israel’s hope lied in the promise that God would restore the twelve tribes, forgive their sins, crush their enemies, and bring forth a new Davidic king and establish a new covenant. One day, they believed, YHWH Himself would return to Zion.
So why was John the Baptist calling out this passage if not to announce Jesus’ coming and, subsequently, the coming of the Kingdom of God? when God would rule over His people once more and deliver them from captivity.
In Matthew 19:28 and Luke 22:28-30, Jesus tells His disciples that He will be enthroned and that they will judge and lead a restored Jewish people. Furthermore, in Ezekiel 34 we read,
For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day. And I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land, and feed them upon the mountains of Israel by the rivers, and in all the inhabited places of the country…..I will seek that which was lost, and bring again that which was driven away, and will bind up that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick: but I will destroy the fat and the strong; I will feed them with judgment. (Ezekiel 34:11-16)
The picture is beginning to become awfully familiar. Let’s look at one final set of verses.
Therefore will I save my flock, and they shall no more be a prey; and I will judge between cattle and cattle. And I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David a prince among them; I the Lord have spoken it. (Ezekiel 34:22-24)
In this passage, God says that He will save His flock. However, God also says the one who will do the shepherding is David. Obviously, David was not God, but he was an image that mirrored what God would be to the exiles: a shepherd. In this context, the miracles, healings, and deliverances of Jesus take on a new meaning: to show that YWHW had finally come to free and restore His people in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus believed that in Him, YHWH was fulfiling His promise and returning to Zion, bringing the kingdom of God to earth. In our look into the divine claims of Jesus, this all too important context brings everything together and we finally have a picture of who this man Jesus was and what He came to accomplish. The long-awaited return of Israel’s king started in a small town called Bethlehem.
But the divine claims and the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ was not the end of the story. Oh no, my friends, something was about to take place that would turn Israel’s expectations upside down. The most important day in history was fast approaching and no one was ready for the despair, and joy, that was soon to come.
Joseph Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teachings (trans. Herbert Danby; London: Allen & Unwin, 1929), 169 – 70.