Monday, January 08, 2018

Baptism of Christ

Today the Church marks the baptism of Christ. John the Baptist refers to Jesus in three ways that link him to the story of the people of God—a superabundance of imagery.

1. The description ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ links Jesus to Isaiah’s vision of a restored Israel, post the Babylonian exile (Israel having been judged by means of Babylon). See Isaiah 42, 49, 50, 52, 53, with the lamb imagery in 53:6, 7.

2. The Holy Spirit resting on Jesus in the form of a dove, as he stands surrounded by the waters of baptism, links Jesus to the post-flood. Noah sent out a dove who returned with an olive branch and later did not return, indicating that the flood had subsided and life could begin again. See Genesis 6-9, especially 8:8-12.

3. The title ‘the Son of God’ links Jesus to king David, called God’s ‘firstborn son’, whose throne God promised to establish through all generations. See, for example, Psalm 89:19-37.

What John ‘foresaw’ comes to pass within a generation of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The First Jewish-Roman War (66-70AD) saw the end of the Herodian dynasty, and the destruction of the temple: an existential crisis for Judaism in the aftermath of which the Church would emerge as a world-changing community (Judaism would also re-emerge in a new form).

Jesus’ baptism, then, prefigures imminent and cataclysmic judgement on the people of God (and then beyond) followed by a restoration (for them, and then beyond). God active in human history. It is not so much Jesus identifying directly with sinful humanity, as Jesus identifying with the covenant-making God, Yahweh, who calls and works with a particular people for the blessing of the nations of peoples.

Does this have any relevance today? And not as abstract theology beyond history, but as pattern in history?

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