“Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams,” his brothers said as they threw Joseph in a pit (37:20). He had big dreams of ruling the sun, moon and stars (37:9). Instead, we find him in a dungeon with no control over his own life, ordered to serve prisoners (40:4).
So, serving prisoners is what Joseph does. One morning a couple of them looked more dejected than ever. “Why the long face?” he enquires (40:7). Turns out they had dreams too.
The ideal kingdom is a wise king with a responsive community. Zechariah’s hope is for Israel’s failed kingdom to be restored after being exiled and dominated by foreign powers. He anticipates what life could be like on that day (13:1, 2, 4).
King and kingdom are reconciled as God gives them a spirit of grace and supplication, and they respond by seeing how they hurt him — looking on the one they have pierced (12:10). They stabbed God’s heart by rejecting his kingship, giving themselves to other rulers and their gods. This has been Zechariah’s core message: Return to me, and I will return to you (1:3).
So, on that day when they turn back to God’s kingship, God cleanses the house of David — the kingship God sacked because they were self-serving. On that day, God cleanses the inhabitants of Jerusalem — the people who gave themselves to other rulers and their gods.
Based on the Torah, Israel was to be a nation under God’s leadership. Their sovereign gave them his laws and defined how to remain ritually pure in his presence. Sin or impurity could make them unclean, so he provided cleansing rituals (e.g. wash occurs 35 times in Leviticus). So when they turn back to God, Zechariah declares that God will open a fountain to cleanse his people, so they’re devoted to him alone:
We’re looking at how Jesus fulfils the hope of the Old Testament prophets. The Gospel writers say this is how Jesus understood himself and his role, but it’s often not a straight line from prophecy to fulfilment. Israel’s history wasn’t a straight line. They took many detours to reach what God intended them to be: his kingdom.
So, to make sense of how Jesus fulfils the prophets, we need to follow their journey. Without taking those steps, it may feel like the Gospel writers were cherry-picking texts to suit themselves.
Take the classic text from Zechariah 9 about the humble king riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. Matthew says, This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet. Zechariah was talking about a son of David being recognized as king as he entered the capital to end the conflict and restore God’s reign over them (9:9-10). In all the generations between Zechariah and Jesus, this had never happened. Some exiles had returned to rebuild Jerusalem, but they were still ruled by the nations. How would God restore his reign over them?
With a chapter never quoted in the NT, we see how Jesus fulfilled what God promised through the Prophets.
The hope Jesus proclaimed was deeply rooted in the promises of the prophets. Matthew keeps telling us that Jesus fulfilled the prophets, using phrases from Zechariah far more than we do today.
Many of us struggle to make sense of how the NT writers used the prophets. Read Zechariah in context, and it may not sound like predictions. For example, the blood of the covenant in Zechariah 9:11 seems to refer back to the Sinai covenant (Exodus 24:8), yet Jesus used the phrase for his Last Supper (Matthew 26:28).
Maybe our understanding of “context” is too narrow. You probably know to check a few verses either side of a quotation, so as not to take it out of context. In a limited sense, that’s true. But for Jesus and the New Testament writers, context was much broader — their place in the story of God.
When Jesus announced the good news of the kingdom, his context was the Jewish world that had not been a kingdom since the exile. Most of them lived in other countries, scattered like sheep without a shepherd. That’s how Zechariah had described them 500 years earlier (Zechariah 10:2; 13:7 etc), and it still described their context in Jesus’ day (Matthew 9:36; 10:6; 15:24).
Jesus fulfilled the prophets not merely by doing some particular thing they predicted. That happened, but it was far more: everything God promised to restore was finally fulfilled in his Anointed. That’s the scope of what Jesus fulfilled: All the promises of God find their Yes in him (2 Corinthians 1:20).
So, let’s take a chapter the NT writers never quoted. How is Zechariah 8 fulfilled in Christ?
We love to think we’re shaping our own destinies, living the dream of being whatever we want. Truth is, none of us controls the world. Much bigger hands shape our history, our nation, our economy, our opportunities. Corporate takeovers can make me redundant. Disasters can destroy my environment.
So, who is in control? Conspiracy theorists promote all sorts of hidden groups, but none of them run the world. There is only one God, one sovereign.
That’s how Israel thought until Babylon swept down from the north and captured God’s nation. Nebuchadnezzar told them he was in charge of their destiny — him and his gods. But that didn’t last. Persia swept in from the east, capturing the Babylonian Empire (including Israel), so who was controlling the world now? Their experience seemed as unstable as the wind.
The two visions of Zechariah 6 address the question of who is in charge.
Be on your guard against those who proclaim anyone else as God’s anointed.
Matthew 24:23-25 (my translation, compare NIV) 23 Then, if someone tells you, ‘Look! Here’s the Anointed’ or ‘Here!’ — don’t believe it! 24 For pseudo-messiahs and pseudo-prophets will be raised up providing great signs and wonders in order to mislead the chosen if possible. 25 Look, I’ve pre-warned you.
What’s a false prophet? People often say, “Someone whose prophecy didn’t come true.” There’s some truth there, but that isn’t definitive. Prophecy isn’t primarily about prediction. Even where it contains a prediction, you may find yourself misled long before the prediction fails to materialize. That’s more an effect that a definition. A true prophet is someone who speaks for God, while a false prophet claims to speak for God when they’re not. It’s an issue of authority: whether they’re speaking the word of the Lord.
That’s why Jesus connects fake christs with false prophets. A false prophet promotes a false messiah. They speak for a power other than God, a leader other than God’s anointed ruler for the earth. That’s precisely what Jesus said: false prophets are pointing to someone other than Jesus when they say, “Look! Here’s the Anointed!”
The Psalms are powerful, enduring songs from ancient Israel that still inspire us today. They praise the character of our heavenly sovereign, giving thanks for what he has done. They lament when things aren’t working out as they should under God’s reign. That’s the power of the Psalms: in joy and injustice, they refocus us on the one who rules. The heart of the Psalms is the refrain, The Lord reigns!
When Christians read the Psalms, we’re faced with a puzzle: Should I see Jesus in Israel’s ancient songs? Or should I read them as Israel understood them before Jesus’ time? Are the Psalms intended to be prophetic, about the one who was to come? Continue reading “Jesus in the Psalms?”
Matthew 7:15-20 (my translation) 15 Watch out for those who claim to speak for God but don’t. They present themselves as sheep following God, but they’re viscous wolves inside. 16 You’ll recognize them by what they produce. People can’t get grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles. 17 Every good tree makes good fruit; but a worthless tree makes degenerate fruit. 18 A good tree cannot make degenerate fruit, and a worthless tree cannot make good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t make good fruit is cut down for firewood. 20 You can certainly recognize them by their fruit.
What does this have to do with Jesus’ kingdom message? Because we treat religion and politics as unrelated categories, we miss what Jesus meant about false prophets. Jesus’ kingdom message is a threat to those who want power. Conversely, those who want power want to conscript God to affirm their leadership. False prophets are those who affirm false powers — rulers other than Jesus.
He wasn’t a Baptist. Or a Protestant. But John the Baptizer certainly was a protester.
John shunned the benefits that human rulers provided to their towns: streets, markets, wells, walls, peace and security. He wouldn’t trade with them. His clothes were an anti-fashion statement, fashioned from whatever he scavenged — like hair from a dead camel. He survived on bush tucker — like grasshoppers and wild honey (3:4). Who knows where he took shelter from rain and wind. Continue reading “A voice in the wild (Matthew 3:1-6)”
Matthew says Jesus fulfilled many Scriptures (1:22; 2:15,17, 23; 4:14; 5:17; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 26:54, 56; 27:9). But please read these before you claim that this proves Jesus was the Messiah. Some of these seem odd to us. Matthew 2:15 might be the most problematic:
Matthew 2:14–15 (NIV) 14He got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Were the prophets who predicted Trump’s victory right?
Now that the American presidential election is over, I’m writing to beg my friends not to confuse your allegiance to Jesus with your allegiance to a political party or to your nation. I’m an Aussie. I’m neither pro-Trump nor pro-Clinton. I am pro-Jesus. I’m writing this because 4 out of 5 white Evangelicals voted for Trump, and some (not all) of you confused support for Trump and support for Jesus. I beg you to listen, because that’s really dangerous to your faith. Continue reading “Trump and the kingdom of God”
When the people on your team cause a problem for others, whose side do you take? Which matters more: loyalty or justice? There may be a hint in the way God handles us.
We’re reading Genesis as the story of the kingdom of God. As people rebelled against God’s kingship they grasped power for themselves, turning violent. The heavenly sovereign permitted earthly government to avoid anarchy, resulting in nations. To bring the nations back under his authority, God established his own nation through Abraham. But he still takes responsibility for the nations: we just saw him act against the injustice of Sodom, and now we see it again as he acts against a Philistine king. Continue reading “God stands with his flawed people (Genesis 20)”
Throughout the Old Testament, the word of the Lord came to prophets—both the former prophets (such as Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha), and the writing prophets (Isaiah – Malachi). But it is Abram who first hears the word of the Lord: Continue reading “Was Abram a prophet? (Genesis 15:1-5)”