November 1, 2016
Through Old Testament Eyes 2: Misreading Jesus' Trial
Reading the New Testament apart from the Old Testament is like having just one good eye. We can function, certainly. But we will lack depth perception and may misinterpret what we see. Objects may be closer or further away than we think. As a result, we may bump into something we shouldn't have--or miss something we were trying to hit.
One example of the benefit of using both eyes that is found in Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels (see here) comes when Richard B. Hays considers the Jews who called Pilate to condemn Jesus to death. While Pilate tells them he washes his hands of the blood of this man, the crowd calls for Jesus' blood to be on them (Mt 27:24-25). This episode has been the tragic motivation over the centuries for much cruelty to Jews at the hands of Christians who only hear the Jews taking the responsibility for Jesus' wrongful death.
How are we to understand this? Does it mean that all Jews at all times are separated from the saving work of Christ? Clearly not since Matthew and all the New Testament writers say otherwise. Then what? We can look at it another way by keeping the Old Testament clearly in view.
Just prior to this episode, at the Last Supper, Jesus said the wine was the blood of the covenant for the forgiveness of sins. In doing this he recalls Exodus 24:6-8, when Moses seals God's covenant with Israel by sprinkling "the blood of the covenant" on the people. The blood of the sacrificed animal binds the people to God.
So while the Jews were certainly saying they take responsibility, another meaning, one unintended by the crowd but nonetheless ironically true and suggested in the Gospel, could also be at work. They unknowingly call for Jesus' blood to be on them in order to redeem them from their sin. Jesus by his death fulfills the promise Matthew's gospel opens with: "He will save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:21). Jesus' blood is on them not only as an image of their guilt but also as the means of their redemption.
By understanding the Old Testament's sacrificial meaning of blood, we can interpret and apply the passage correctly. Without it, the results can be way off the mark.