Foreshadowing the Conquest of the Promised Land

Genesis is filled with the foreshadowing of later events. In the book of Joshua the Israelites enter the promised land and begin its conquest, and this event was foreshadowed in Genesis 12.

Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Morah. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. (Gen. 12:6-7)

Three observations: first, the land is currently occupied (“the Canaanites were in the land”); yet, second, the land would eventually belong to Abraham’s offspring (see the promise in v. 7); and third, the future possession of the land by Abraham’s offspring would ultimately be the work of God (“I will give this land”).

If the current occupants of the land were only temporary stewards, then a conflict was inevitable. For the land of Canaan to become the land of Israel, a conquest is in store.

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Last Supper, Lord’s Supper, or Marriage Supper: What Do the Miraculous Feedings Foreshadow?

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus miraculously provided food for a crowd of 5,000 (Matt. 14:13-21) and 4,000 (15:32-39). Scholars recognize that these feedings allude to Old Testament stories involving Moses, Israel, Elijah, and Elisha. But in addition to pointing backward, do the stories point forward? And if these feedings are forward-pointing, what is being foreshadowed?

Perhaps the Last Supper of Jesus with his disciples, or perhaps the Lord’s Supper which believers practice, or perhaps the eschatological Marriage Supper. Let’s take these options in reverse.

  1. Least controversial is that the miraculous feedings foreshadow the Marriage Supper. Matthew has already reported Jesus’ words about an end-time banquet: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:11). And near the end of the Gospel, Jesus refers to “that day” when he will drink “this fruit of the vine” with his disciples “in my Father’s kingdom” (26:29), another reference to the eschatological meal. In Grant Osborne’s commentary on Matthew, he represents the view of many scholars when he writes, “This was truly a messianic miracle pointing forward to the messianic banquet, an eschatological meal often emphasized by Jesus (Matt. 8:11; Luke 14:15; 22:30) and also a common theme in Judaism.”
  2. But what about the Lord’s Supper? Could the miraculous provision of loaves find meaning in the frequent practice of believers sharing bread and wine together? Leon Morris is hesitant to see in the language any application to communion. Ben Witherington says “it is doubtful that the First Evangelist had any major intent to portray this as a Eucharistic meal.” Craig Blomberg says a eucharistic reading would be anachronistic, though some foreshadowing might be possible. R. T. France is more open to the view, though, writing, “The feeding of the crowd is . . . a ‘foretaste’ of the central act of worship of the emergent Christian community, even though the menu was not quite the same.” Furthermore, consider that the order of taking, giving thanks, breaking, and eating (Matt. 15:36-37) is the pattern of the Lord’s Supper in Acts 27:35 (“And when he had said these things, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat”).
  3. The miraculous meals may point to the Last Supper which Jesus shared with his disciples. Grant Osborne rightly notes that the sequence of verbs in Matt. 14:19 (taking, blessing, breaking, giving) is found elsewhere in the Gospel only at the Last Supper in 26:26 (“Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples”). David Turner says it is “at least plausible” that the miraculous feeding foreshadowed the Last Supper. The second miraculous meal tells us that Jesus gave thanks, and this notion was during the actions of taking and giving (15:36). At the Last Supper, Jesus took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to his disciples (26:27).

Before we evaluate these options, let’s avoid the mistake of assuming only one view can be held. Why couldn’t two views be true simultaneously? Or even all three? The eschatological feast is surely the end point of what the miraculous meals foreshadow. But the Lord’s Supper is itself an anticipation of that final feast. In the bread and wine, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26), a coming which leads to table fellowship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 8:11). And isn’t the Lord’s Supper the ordinance which Jesus established at the Last Supper? And wasn’t it at the Last Supper when Jesus also spoke of the eschatological feast in the Father’s kingdom? (26:29).

The original audience of the miraculous feedings may not have realized the significance of the meals. But the point isn’t whether the original eaters or listeners would have sensed a deeper resonance of truth. The point is for the original readers of Matthew’s Gospel, readers which had an inspired collection and organization of stories and narration and teachings. The readers of Matthew’s Gospel were decades after the events of Jesus’ earthly ministry and thus decades after the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper at the Last Supper (see 1 Cor. 11:24-25; Luke 22:19). When these readers and hearers of Matthew’s Gospel learned about Jesus taking, blessing, breaking, and giving bread, discerning elements (pun intended!) of the Last Supper, Lord’s Supper, and Marriage Supper is not only plausible but reasonable and, I think, even probable.

So, yes, I’m saying the miraculous feedings foreshadowed the meal Jesus shared in the upper room, the meal the church shared (and shares) together, and the meal on the last day when we recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

We need not be bound to only one view of what the feedings point to. If you look at a map and locate Nashville, Tennessee, you will notice that I-40 leaves Nashville to the west, and it will take you to Oklahoma City. And if you said, “I’m going to travel on I-40 from Nashville to Oklahoma City,” it would also be correct for someone to say, “You know, along the way, you’ll go through Memphis and even Little Rock.” This is true because I-40 takes you from Nashville to Oklahoma City but through other cities along the way. The trajectory of travel is advanced, not hindered, by these other places prior to your final destination.

The map illustration is a way of saying that the miraculous meals point to the Marriage Supper, but this trajectory does not exclude a foreshadowing of the Last Supper and Lord’s Supper–which themselves continue pointing to the final feast at the table with the patriarchs.

“Biblical Theology and Discipleship”

Today I’m over at the Boyce College blog discussing “Biblical Theology and Discipleship.

An excerpt:

The Bible calls you to a different kind of seeing. The biblical authors, across sixty-six books, give you a set of lenses through which to view the world. The Bible’s worldview allows us to see why we’re here, what went wrong in the world, what God has done to rescue us, and what will happen when Jesus returns. We need biblical theology because we need to live faithfully before God, walking in a manner worthy of the gospel and understanding that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. To be a disciple on this narrow road, we need to see the world and our lives as the Bible does.

The Question for Two Miraculous Feedings: How Many Baskets Did You Gather?

In Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus fed five thousand people with a small collection of fish and bread. Then in 15:32-39, he fed four thousand people with another small collection of fish and bread. Matthew 16 references these two stories and draws important lessons about the two feedings. My suggestion is that in Matthew 16, Jesus asks questions in a way that shows the significance of the numbers of baskets leftover in Matthew 14 and 15. I think those real numbers have a symbolic meaning.

In Matthew 16, the disciples are in a boat with Jesus and they’ve forgotten to bring the leftover bread (Matt. 16:5). Jesus warned them of the leaven (or teaching) of the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:6, 12), but the disciples were too distracted by the lack of actual bread in the boat (16:7-8).

Jesus helps them focus by asking some questions in Matthew 16:9-10. In 16:9 he asks, “Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?” And in 16:10, “Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?”

Notice the information Jesus supplied. He refers to both feedings (which are reported in Matt. 14:13-21 and 15:32-39), the number of loaves in each case (“five” in the first feeding, “seven” in the second), and the number of people who were present for each miracle (“five thousand” and “four thousand,” respectively). However, there is also a number Jesus omits in each question: “how many baskets you gathered” (16:9 and 16:10). The reader has already learned that 12 baskets of leftovers were gathered after the first feeding, and 7 baskets after the second (see 14:20 and 15:37). When Jesus was on the boat with the disciples in Matthew 16, he surely knew the number of baskets that were leftover in each episode, so he didn’t ask for those figures for his own information. The phrasing of the questions in 16:9 and 16:10 highlights the number of leftovers because it was the only number Jesus didn’t explicitly give in each question. Jesus wanted the disciples to recall the number of the baskets when he fed the 5,000 and the number of the baskets when he fed the 4,000.

Notice that the numbers of baskets are not random numbers like 9 or 17 or 22. The numbers are 12 and 7, which are significant numbers in Scripture. Some interpreters may be reluctant to ascribe symbolic significance to the number of baskets in Matthew 14 and 15, but I think the phrasing of Jesus’ questions in 16:9 and 16:10 invites the reader to consider a meaning to the numbers. If the numbers didn’t matter, why omit those details in the questions? Jesus clearly wants the specific numbers to be remembered. Because of the geographical areas where the feedings in Matthew 14 and 15 took place, the former was probably a “Jewish” feeding, reinforced by the “12” baskets of leftover bread (for Israel had 12 tribes in the Old Testament), and the latter was probably a “Gentile” feeding, reinforced by the “7” baskets of leftover bread (for Deut. 7:1 names seven nations in Canaan; and note too that Jesus had just healed a Canaanite woman’s daughter in Matt. 15:21-28 before the second miraculous feeding).

In the miraculous feedings of Matthew 14 and 15, Jesus was forecasting the great messianic feast, where Jewish and Gentile believers would fellowship with their God forever. He himself was the Bread of Life (see John 6:22-41), the true and better Moses. The two feedings showed that Jesus was reconstituting the people of God around himself. He was the one who would provide what they needed, no matter if they were Jews or Gentiles. He not only gave them bread, he would be bread for them. In the fields, he gave them loaves. On the cross, he gave himself.

Why Was Jesus Raised on the “Third Day”?

On multiple occasions, Jesus clarified that his resurrection would be on “the third day” (see Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19; also John 2:19). When Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the gospel tradition, he said that Jesus was “raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:4).

Paul taught that if you looked in “the Scriptures” (for Paul, the Old Testament), you would discern a “third day” expectation for Jesus’ deliverance. How does he conclude such a thing? And when Jesus spoke about his future resurrection, he said it “must” be on the third day (Matt. 16:21). Why must it be on that day and no other? Why the third day rather than the first or fourth? Why not death followed by resurrection a few hours later?

The expectation of Third Day Deliverance was probably not linked to only one Old Testament text but to an overall pattern of incredible third-day events. For instance:

  • Isaac was delivered from being sacrificed on the “third day” (Gen. 22:9)
  • Joseph released his brothers on the third day (Gen. 42:17-18)
  • God came down to meet Moses on Mount Sinai on the “third day” (Exod. 19:11)
  • When Joshua rallied the people to enter the promised land, he said the conquest would begin in “three days” (Josh. 1:11; 3:2)
  • After Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days, he was delivered (Jonah 1:17)
  • In Hosea, the people said, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up” (Hos. 6:2)
  • Hezekiah, the king of Judah, was healed from his sickness on the third day (2 Kgs. 20:5-6)
  • Esther successfully interceded for the Jews on the “third day” (Esth. 4:16)

There are more examples that could be cited, but the above events establish the point that some major Old Testament stories were specifically associated with “three days” or on the “third day.” In fact, there are multiple examples of Third Day Deliverance stories where a character is delivered from sickness or death!

The resurrection of Jesus was the ultimate biblical example of a Third Day Deliverance.

See an excellent article by Stephen Dempster titled “From Slight Peg to Cornerstone to Capstone: The Resurrection of Christ on ‘The Third Day’ According to the Scriptures” (Westminster Theological Journal 76.2 [2014]: 371-410). And Jim Hamilton has traced a cluster of third-day passages on his blog.

“From Dust You Shall Arise”: Resurrection Hope in the Old Testament

I had the honor of contributing an article to the latest edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBJT 18.4 [2014]). The journal focused this issue on “resurrection,” and just in time for Passion Week drawing nigh.

I wrote on resurrection hope in the Old Testament: “From Dust You Shall Arise” (pp. 9-29 of the journal).

 

Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and Raising the Dead

In the Old Testament, there were three occasions when people died and were brought back to life. In 1 Kings 17:17-24, Elijah raised a widow’s son. In 2 Kings 4:18-37, Elisha raised the Shunammite’s son. And in 2 Kings 13:21, a dead man revived when his body was thrown into a grave with Elisha’s bones.

In the New Testament, Jesus raised a ruler’s daughter (Matt 9:23-25), a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17), and Lazarus (John 11:38-44).

So far, if you’re keeping score, physical resurrections in the Old and New Testaments pan out like this:

  • Elijah, 1 person
  • Elisha, 2 people
  • Jesus, 3 people

The power of Jesus’ ministry surpasses the greatness of Elijah and Elisha. Like Elijah, Jesus raised a widow’s son (1 Kings 17; Luke 7), but the number of people raised by Jesus was greater than the number by Elijah. Jesus also raised more people than Elisha did. Furthermore, like Elisha, resurrection was associated with Jesus’ death, but in a greater scope. When a dead man was thrown into a grave and touched Elisha’s bones, that one body revived (2 Kings 13). But when Jesus died, “The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (Matt 27:52).