Chapter 2 Old Testament
Genesis - Freedom as children of God
Exodus - Liberation from slavery
Judges - Leadership to free people
Prophets - Restoration and freedom
When the translation of the Hebrew word khesed was corrected from "mercy" (KJV) to "steadfast love" (RSV and NRSV) it became obvious that there are dozens of references to the love of God in the Old Testament. The key suggested in the Introduction is that genuine love is concerned for the freedom of the other. In the Psalms for example the word "steadfast love" (God's kind of love) occurs 90 times, and Psalm 136 uses this word khesed in every one of its 26 verses. Often the psalm writer cries for God's love to free him from some terrible situation.
Here then are four vignettes from the Old Testament that picture how my preaching has moved in the direction of a love that frees us.
Instead of original sin as the condemnation of humanity to eternal damnation, I discovered the theme of Genesis is the freedom that God has in mind for us. And God cares about the continuing existence of nations as nations.
The heart of Exodus is explained in the text: "In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed" (Exodus 15:13). Because God loved the Jews who were slaves in Egypt he was concerned for their freedom, and through Moses he redeemed them. Here the word "redeeming' does not focus on the amount paid, but the fact that they were led out into freedom. And that freeing love is picked up in our title. Religions Enslave: God wants us free.
In the book of Judges leaders are raised up and empowered because God cares for that nation's freedom from invaders. Based on God's intention to support the continued existence of all nations (see under Genesis), I assume that the judges in Israel are one example of God's dealings with other peoples, and liberating leaders have been raised up in the long history of all nations.
Similarly the emphasis in the books of the Prophets is a concern for Israel's freedom and their horror at the people's rejection of the freeing love of God . But other nations are also important, and there are also references to the personal freedom we noted in the psalms.
Genesis - Freedom as children of God
When I began preaching, I used to quote "Let us make mankind in our image" (Genesis 1:26) to establish the fact that God made us in his image, but we have fallen short and therefore deserve to burn in hell. This explained Paul's statement that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Very slowly, and from many directions, theologians have given me the materials I need to see the relevance of the first chapters of Genesis as a root explanation of the human condition. They are not given as a statement of God's intention to condemn us if we fail to meet his standard. That is the complaint of children against perfectionist parents.
I now begin with the statement of God's intention as the very purpose of our creation as humans. "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness" (Genesis 1:26). This suggests that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit intend to work together to enable us to enjoy "the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Romans 8:21).
That means I no longer begin with original sin and God's wrath and justice. Rather I picture God as a loving parent assigning consequences for bad behavior and being very angry when the freedom or safety of his children is threatened. Justice is part of the love of God. So I reject the idea that God can only start loving us when his justice has been satisfied.
The Garden of Eden (I discovered that Eden means " joy, delight") used to be preached as a description of the original act of disobedience that resulted in eternal exclusion from God's presence. But I discovered that the story begins with freedom. "The LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food" and Adam and Eve were given the freedom to eat from the trees of this garden of delight (Genesis 2:9, 16). That captures the vision of peace, beauty and good food that oppressed people long for all over the world.
And the Bible ends with the city of God through which "the river of the water of life flows." It is lined with trees of life on both sides, and they are "for the healing of the nations" (Revelation 22:2). The tree of life therefore seems to be the freedom to enjoy God's bountiful provision. As Paul wrote to Timothy, God "richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment" (1 Timothy 6:17). The fall of Adam and Eve was not an original sin that infected and condemned the human race to eternal damnation. I now picture it as a rejection of the astonishing freedom that God's love has in mind for us.
Most children enjoy the freedom of a walk in the country with their parents, but some find this a bore, and they only go kicking and screaming. Wise parents do not force them. What went wrong in the Garden of Eden is that the second Person of the Trinity (for the name yahweh or LORD - see the next section on the Exodus) invited our original parents to go out for a walk with him, but they chose to refuse that invitation (Genesis 3:8). Which suggests that God gives us the freedom to enjoy him. The alternative consequences of choosing to go our own way are hiding, fear, shame, blaming, the submission of women, hating one's work, and murderous hatred (Genesis 3:9-4:8). As in many families, children like to blame their parents for judging them, and they misunderstand the love that wants their freedom.
In Jesus' story of the prodigal the father frees his son to try out the behavior that will result in destroying his freedom. But that is not the end of the story, and the father frees him to be welcomed home. In this life God the Father allows us to choose directions that he knows will hurt us, but in the eternal city of God there will be no room for "the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars " (Revelation 21:8). This is why the Father, the Son, and the Spirit work together with great patience to make our hearts ready to enjoy heaven. At every step our freedom is respected, but somehow we are brought to longing for what God has in mind for us. (The case for this kind of freedom is set out by Clark Pinnock in a chapter titled "From Augustine to Arminius" in his The Grace of God and the Will of Man, 1989).
My second year as a missionary in North India (1954) I was trying to save the millions around me from eternal damnation. I soon saw that the task was impossible. I am grateful I was freed from despair by C.S.Lewis' The Great Divorce, 1945. He taught me that nobody will end up in hell who could by any means be made happy in heaven. God can see the heart, not the ignorance of our false religions. But that also implies that some will prefer what he called Grey City (see chapter 5 of this book under "death"). As a result I now see the wrath of God, which begins with the Garden of Eden, as a loving means of correcting nations and individuals in this world to help us into the perfect love of heaven.
I will briefly add two more indications of God's concern for freedom that now impress me in the Book of Genesis.
In chapter10 there is a table of nations, which historians have not taken seriously. Many of these peoples are still identifiable after three thousand years. Evidently their freedom to exist has been very carefully maintained. God does not engage in genocide. Even when Moab is destroyed (Jeremiah 48:1-44) the chapter ends with "Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab" (Jeremiah 48:47, as with Ammon in 49:6).
An awesome exception to this is the final destruction of the Canaanites (Amorites in Genesis 15:16). After the invasion under Joshua they continued as a powerful force in the cities of Tyre and Sidon and the coastal area to the north (see Judges 4:2-3). They later became known as the Phoenicians. They were merchants and seafaring people, and they established a colony in and around Carthage in present day Tunisia.. They were decimated in the Punic wars against the Romans (241-146 BC) and other invasions in 202 and 146 B.C.. This Canaanite-Phoenician people had disappeared from the pages of history by the Muslim invasion that swept across North Africa in the seventh century.
It seems that in the case of all other people and nations, though they were often laid low, the LORD made sure they were restored to bring the best of their culture as their own contribution to the city of God (Revelation 21:24, 26). To my mind the survival of so many peoples over three thousand years can only be explained by God's loving concern for each nation's freedom. The Bible then becomes an illustration of this in the history of one people. God could have told of his dealings with every nation in the world, but that would have required a huge library of books.
The Jewish people have survived in spite of seventy years of exile in Babylonia, and another very long exile among other nations since the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 (many think the exile ended with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the events that have followed). But when Paul preached on Mars Hill in Athens he indicated that the Jewish nation was one of the many nations that God loves and seeks to bring into freedom. "God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God, and perhaps grope for him and find him" (Acts 17:26-27). That means that Paul believed that God cares, not only for his own Jewish people, but for the freedom of all peoples. Nations may suffer wrath and correction, but their long term future is important. And, knowing the fate that Jesus had said awaited Jerusalem in that generation (Matthew 24:1-2), Paul has no doubt that his own Jewish people would in due course be restored (Romans 11:25-27).
Since nations are free in every crisis of their history to choose either the freedom that God has in mind for them, or the wrath consequences of unacceptable behavior, we can hardly view them as predestined to be this or that. We could say they are predestined to continue in existence as a nation, but they have a huge freedom of choice. That puts me on the side of Free Will Theism as opposed to Process Theism (the two are argued in John B.Cobb and Clark H. Pinnock, Searching for an Adequate God, Erdmans, 2000). I liked John Sanders' point that if the Hebrew midwives had feared Pharaoh rather than God and killed the baby boys, then God would have responded accordingly and a different story would have emerged ("Does God change his mind?,"Christianity Today, May 21, 2001, p.41).
Freedom certainly has its dangers. Loving parents allow their children the freedom of turning in wrong directions. And God also allows nations to suffer the consequences of turning away from him. But the aim is to bring them back to enjoying the freedom that he has in mind. We will see how this is illustrated in the book of the judges, and how the prophets spoke again and again of gracious restoration. If God wants us to know that he cares about the freedom of peoples, I can conclude that I should use the Bible story to connect with the struggles of every nation and oppressed groups within a nation (see the chapter on Mission in chapter 6).
There is much more about oppression and freedom in the Book of Genesis. But Abraham is the heart of the story for Arabs and Jews. They both claim Abraham as their father (in my book on Ishmael the Arab I tried using the dating and genealogies of Genesis to give an imagined account of the origins of the Arab people). For 3800 years the Arab and Jewish cousins have fought about the land that God promised to their ancestor. Christians also claim Abraham as their spiritual father (Romans 4:1-18). But the Crusades and many wars prove that Christians have missed the importance of each nation's freedom, and too often we focused on territorial ambition.
Only recently we have accepted the fact that our faith is not to control other nations but to be a leaven that respects their culture and freedom. In God's providence the religions and ideologies of Rome, Arab militarism, Spanish imperialism, French nationalism under Napolean, Nazism under Hitler, the Christian British Empire, Stalin's Communism, Japanese Shinto, each had to be toppled in due course. As I write, the renewed Arab thirst to deny the freedom of other nations under Osama Bin Laden is facing its "Day of the Lord" (see Word Thoughts under Prophets).
All three groups of close cousins in Abraham's family of nations forget what was to be the outcome of his faith. "In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). But the only way all families of the earth can be blessed is through finding the freedom that God has in mind for them, and being concerned for the freedom of others. The good news therefore begins with God's loving concern, not only for our personal freedom, but also for the freedom of our nation, and other nations. When this is grasped it will resonate with the freedom longings of ordinary people everywhere.
Exodus - Liberation from Slavery
When Moses was called to free his people, one of the questions that concerned him was "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'the God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name? what shall I say to them?" (Exodus 3:13). The simple answer was "I AM WHO I AM." (God just IS !). And of course Jesus called himself by that name I AM (John 8:58, 13:19, 18:5-6).
The Hebrew for I AM is the first person present tense of the verb to be (eheyeh), which in the third person becomes yiheyeh (Jehovah in the KJV). So Moses was told to call him yahweh, "the God of your ancestors"). Evidently, having been raised among the gods of Egypt, Moses did not know this name, though it was in use from the earliest chapters of the Bible (Genesis 2:4, 3:1, 7:1, 11:5, etc).. This was also the name used by Abraham when Yahweh came to speak to him (Genesis 12:1, 4, 8, 3:14, 15:1, 17:1, etc.).
The Jewish people later came to feel this name of God was too holy to pronounce, so they preferred to use the term adonai (adon is the ordinary word for an earthly lord, and also was used metaphorically for God. So adonai means "my Lord"). In the NRSV, out of respect for Jewish feelings, the name Yahweh is helpfully put in capital letters as LORD in contrast to lord as a title for a person in authority.
A major turning point in my thinking was the remark "No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known" (John 1:18). This suggested that God (Hebrew elohim, el, Arabic Allah) is Trinitarian (as in "Let us make humankind in our image" Genesis 1:26), and the three Persons relate to us in different ways to effect our freedom. The Father is never seen, but like a loving parent he sets up the environment for our freedom. The Son (Yahweh, the LORD) is the Person who keeps coming (as in Genesis 3:8, 12:7, 13:14, 17:1) to interact with humans and the nations they live in. And the Holy Spirit is experienced as the power and inspiration that frees us from within (as in Judges 3:10, 6:34, Exodus 31:3, Ezekiel 2:2, 3:12, 14, 24, etc.).
Christians are often given the impression that the only great liberating act of the Son of God was when he was crucified. Obviously his death on the cross and resurrection is supremely important for our personal salvation (freedom). . As we will see, he opened the way through death, and emptied sheol (the abode of the dead) of all who had previously died (John 5:28). There is no other way for anyone to be freed from death, resurrected and "come to the Father" but through him (John 14:6). But we should not add that babies, the retarded, and the ignorant are excluded because they have not made a cerebral decision to accept him (see Clark Pinnock's chapter titled "Optimism of Salvation" in A Wideness in God's Mercy, Zondervan, 1994).
When John the Baptist saw Jesus coming for baptism, he said "Here is the Lamb of God who keeps taking away the sin of the world" (John 1:29, the NRSV translators missed the Greek present continuous tense). This is not something that will take place in the future when Jesus would die on the cross. Throughout the Old Testament period (and among all nations) the LORD was continually absorbing the sin of humans. It was the same Yahweh, the LORD, Son of God, Word of God who was always "the true light, which keeps enlightening every person, continually coming into the world" (John 1:9 literal translation).
David's adultery, lies, and murder were as awful as we can imagine. But when he confessed "I have sinned against the LORD" Nathan the prophet was able to assure him "Now the LORD has put away your sin" (2 Samuel 12:13-14). There would be earthly consequences (as when a forgiven murderer still has to serve time), but the sin against God is already blotted out. Clearly the Son of God did not become Lamb when he died on the cross. From the beginning he has loved and forgiven countless individuals in every nation.
Over the past 3,400 years Jewish people have celebrated the Passover. It reminds them of their miraculous liberation from cruel bondage as slaves of Pharaoh. Latin American theologians (e.g. Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation, 1971) picked up the story of the Exodus as the theme of what became Liberation Theology. Juan Luis Segundo showed how this ought to be the heart of our training for Christian ministry (The Liberation of Theology, 1976, English translation, 1979). The idea of liberation also empowered the struggle for the human rights of Black people under Martin Luther King, and the movement for Women's Liberation.
Unfortunately Liberation Theology tended to move in the direction of freeing people by political action. It often became a kind of Marxism in Christian clothing. Of far greater significance was the discovery that when poor and oppressed people could gather in the barrios of South America to worship and pray and study the Bible together, they were empowered to make the social changes that effected their own liberation.
Most of the improvement in the status of Black people has emerged from their gathering to be empowered in their church congregations. And (in spite of much nonsense to the contrary) it is through women gathering in small groups that the most effective freeing of women has been made possible. There is little evidence of this occuring through political ideologies, or through religions such as Islam, Buddhism, and Shinto. And in Hinduism most changes in the direction of freedom have begun very recently through Christian influences. To be honest we must add that the Christian church has also had a dismal record in this direction (see Chapter 3 under Paul, Mutuality).
Similar changes through congregational gatherings occured among the Pentecostal churches which mushroomed in South America (documented by Harvey Cox, The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality, 1995). Before that in India there had been huge church growth when low caste people began meeting as Christians, and they soon moved up out of poverty and degradation (J.W.Pickett, Christian Mass Movements in India, 1933). And over a hundred years before that John Wesley organized class meetings where his converts were not only transformed as individuals, but they soon impacted the horrendous social conditions in Britain at that time.
This makes clear that when the Holy Spirit is allowed to empower Christian gatherings the result is that people are liberated in unexpected directions. Which is another very visible evidence that the love of God cares about the freedom of ordinary people.
When the slaves who had been freed arrived at Mount Sinai they were given the ten commandments of the moral law accepted among all nations (Exodus 20:1-17). When I began preaching I used these commandments as a way to prove our sinfulness. We must all admit that we fail in some of these directions. But when my wife Mollie and I looked at this ancient list of prohibitions in the light of Arab interpretations of adultery, we discovered that the ten commandments are empty of content. We are not told what murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, and covetousness include. The commandments are more like categories of moral judgment. People of all countries make judgments about the behavior of others, and hopefully their own behavior, under these heads. The specifics have to be settled in the light of each particular situation (where this differs from situation ethics is explained in an appendix to the above book on Adultery).
This means we are given the responsibility of our own moral freedom. And each nation is also free to decide what infringements of these moral principles should be made into civil and criminal laws. For example murder, theft, and bearing false witness are still crimes in western countries, but worshiping other gods, idolatry, not taking a day of rest, and adultery are no longer punishable by our laws (see Adultery : An Exploration of Love and Marriage). Where Islam can establish sharia law in a country the first commandment is made into a law against apostasy, which is punishable by death. The commandment relating to stealing can be enforced by amputating the hand that stole.
But what do we say about the massive Jewish legal system and ceremonial laws that follow the giving of the ten categories of moral judgment in the Bible? ( Exodus 21:1- 33, Leviticus, and parts of Numbers and Deuteronomy) As a result of Jesus' teaching we are freed from the burdensome laws of the Pharisees, and we no longer feel the need of priests to offer animal sacrifice. We are also freed from the kosher food laws which make table fellowship with people of other nations impossible (see Mark 7:15-19, Acts 10:13-15).
The civil and criminal laws of ancient Israel may have been useful for a time, but every person and every nation has to examine the traditions we live by in the light of Jesus' sixfold "But I say to you" in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). But, until our laws can be improved in the direction of Jesus' teaching, we live under the laws of the country we live in. "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God" (Romans 13:1). This implies that government is part of God's plan for our freedom. He can use unbelieving and even immoral persons to administer our government and legal institutions.
As we will observe in the Book of Judges, God seems quite willing to use very imperfect instruments to effect the political freedom that he has in mind. That does not deny the fact that God can also remove corrupt systems that cease to serve his purposes for a people's freedom. In some cases he does this very violently by war or revolution. Wiser nations know it is better to make the changes before they are forced on us. But in any case people all over the world live their lives with the assumption that there is both personal moral responsibility and nations have to answer for their behavior.
We might add that a mark of democracy is the idea that we willingly accept those who are voted in to rule over us who do not share our religious views. But democracy is impossible when a religion assumes that people must be forced to submit to its rules. This was the situation in Christian Europe more or less till the time of John Wesley. Islam still needs to find a way to make democracy possible in Arab countries. And democracy in Turkey, Indonesia, and Pakistan is constantly threatened by fundamentalists. The idea that people should be free to practice their own religion, and clerics and priests should not be running a government of a country is essential for any kind of democracy
Judges - Leadership to free people
The Book of Judges has always been problematical for moralizers who wonder how God can bless the leadership of a timorous man like Gideon, or a Samson who had a fatal weakness for women. In modern English the usual meaning of a judge is someone who sits in a court of law, and either pronounces people "not guilty" or assigns consequences for wrong behavior. But these Old Testament judges had a quite different function. They were very imperfect men and women who were raised up to free their nation from those who were oppressing them.
What is different about the Book of Judges is that we are told that the leaders are raised up because the LORD is concerned about oppression, and wants to free the people. Deborah for example shamed Barak into attacking Sisera who "had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly for twenty years" ( Judges 4:2-3). In a sudden flood of the river Kishon the chariots were mired in the mud, and the Canaanite army was thrown into a panic (Judges 4:15, 5:21). Then when Sisera fled on foot, another woman welcomed him to her home, and promised to protect him. When he lay down to sleep she drove a tent peg trough his brain (Judges 4:17-21). We do not have to approve all that these leaders did, but clearly God used them to effect the freedom that he had in mind.
As I now read these stories I prefer to see them in the light of the LORD's intention. On the one hand he intervenes to discipline a nation. "The anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them, and he sold them into the power of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them" (Judges 2:14-15). On the other hand the Book of Judges shows that when a nation cries out to him, and turns from their idolatry he intervenes to free them. Here are some texts that never find their way into our secular history books:
"Whenever the LORD (Yahweh) raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD would be moved to pity by their groaning" (2:18).
"When the Israelites cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the Israelites, who delivered them, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. The spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel; he went out to war, and the LORD gave King Cushan-rishathaim of Araminto his hand" (3:9-10).
"The Israelites served King Eglon of Moab eighteen years. But when the Israelites cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up for them a deliverer (a freer), Ehud son of Gera, the Benjamite" (3:15).
"The LORD threw Sisera and all his chariots into a panic before Barak" (4:15).
"When the Israelites cried to the LORD on account of the Midianites, the LORD sent a prophet to the Israelites" (6:7). The prophet explained exactly how the Israelites had turned to idolatry. Later "the spirit of the LORD took possession of Gideon" and we know the familiar story of how the LORD said to Gideon "The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand" (6:34, 7:2).
"Then the spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah . . . so Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them; and the LORD gave them into his hand. He inflicted a massive defeat on them" (11:29, 32).
Based on these texts I assume that the LORD has again and again used leaders in all countries when people called out to him to free them from intolerable oppression. What is different is that in the Book of Judges we are told the source of the strength that these very imperfect men and women received to free their nation. Perhaps the book is given to us by way of illustration to help us interpret the LORD's commitment to the life and freedom of every nation. This means we can respect each nation's history, honor every movement of genuine liberation, and view their leaders as given by the hand of God. We can also announce the good news to freedom-loving people everywhere that God wants us Free. We will keep seeing that it is religions and ideologies that enslave us.
Prophets - Restoration and Freedom
In all churches Old Testament prophets used to be used as a mine of prophecies about the future coming of the Messiah the Son of God. Jews denied that Jesus was the Messiah, and still await his future coming. What both missed was that the prophets without exception all spoke of the LORD as reigning among the nations in their day.
There are certainly some wonderful visions and prophecies in the prophetic books, but the term Messiah is from the Hebrew word mashiakh (anointed one) which was used by the Psalm writer as referring either to the LORD or more probably to David himself. "The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against his anointed (Psalm 2:2). Later in the Psalm the LORD is called God's Son and the Father says "I will make the nations your heritage" (2:7-8).
The word messiah means someone anointed for a task. In Psalm 105:15 we have "do not touch my anointed ones" in the plural. Kings were anointed, as were priests and prophets. Many Psalms are addressed to the LORD in a very personal way. "I lie down and sleep; I wake again for the LORD sustains me" (3:5, as in 4:8, 5:2-3, 6:3). But there are also other Psalms that speak of the LORD as the reigning King who intervenes among the nations. "O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is you name in all the earth" (8:1). "The LORD sits enthroned for ever, he has established his throne for judgment" (9:7). "Rise up, O LORD! Do not let mortals prevail; let the nations be judged before you" (9:19). "Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now rise up" says the LORD (12:5). "Dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations" (22:28). "The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples" (33:10). We saw that happening in 1989 when the iron curtain and power of communism collapsed, and we have seen some of that happening since September the 11th.
In every one of the prophetic books the LORD is reigning and intervening among the nations at that time (Jeremiah 1:14, Ezekiel 5:5-6, Daniel 4:3, Hosea 14:1-3, Joel 1:15, Amos 1:3, Jonah 1:1-2, Micah 1:1-3, Nahum 1:2-3, Habakkuk 1:6, Zephaniah 1:7, Haggai 2:20-22, Zechariah 9:1-5)
Unfortunately in the four hundred years from Malachi to John the Baptist the voice of prophecy apparently went silent. And during this time, there was a subtle shift among Jewish people from looking to the LORD as reigning among the nations to honoring the torah. That meant spending a lifetime studying the books of Moses and all the rabbis who had interpreted them. Instead of reigning right now in the present, one day the Messiah will hopefully come.
As a result they forgot the fact that the LORD had kept coming, sometimes to judge and correct what was going wrong, but mostly to intervene for their freedom (see Advent Comings of the Lord among the Nations). Instead they began looking forward to him coming as Messiah in some great intervention in the future to put everything right for the Jewish people.
Christians also forgot that the eternal Son of God had come again and again to intervene among the nations in the Old Testament period (Unbounded Love chapter 7 on "Advent"). They began speaking of only two comings. One is celebrated at Christmas when the baby Jesus came to the manger in Bethlehem. The second coming in the future is of great interest to students of prophecy and radio and television preachers. That is what sells Christian books. Hal Lindsey is still far ahead as a perennial best seller (The Late Great Planet Earth, Zondervan, 1970 , had eleven printings within a year).
New Testament scholars (beginning with Albert Schweitzer) also failed to see that the next coming spoken of in the New Testament was the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, which Jesus predicted would take place in the generation of his hearers (see Matthew 23:36, 24:1-2, 34). I think it was about 1978 when I became Rector of St. James' Church in Kingston, Ontario, that I stopped using the term second coming. I began pointing out the many comings of the LORD throughout the Old Testament period, including his coming to deal with churches (Revelation 2:5, 16, 25, 3:3, 11).
That explains the momentous turning point in Peter's confession. For two or three years he had listened to Jesus, walked with him, eaten at the same table, slept next to him on the floor of many simple homes. Then one day Jesus said to the disciples "who do you say that I am?" And Peter answered "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:15-16). It had suddenly dawned on Peter that this Jesus whom he had known so well as a friend and teacher was none other than the Sovereign LORD, Messiah King over all kings, that the prophets had spoken about.
As we will see in the next chapter on the Gospels, the Messiah's concern to free people in the Old Testament becomes very visible as he lived among us. Jesus sermon in Nazareth quoted "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners" (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18). In a way Isaiah's words are looking forward to the Messiah's ministry on earth, but the Messiah already cared about the oppressed in the Old Testament period.
Here are some messages from Isaiah that clearly refer to the LORD, not only toppling oppressors, but caring and intervening for the freedom of people in his day:
"Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:17).
"When the LORD has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon" (14:3-4).
"The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy One of Israel" (29:19).
"I will bring my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the people" (51:5).
"The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away" (51:11).
"Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free" (58:6).
Evidently the Messiah Son of God was actively concerned about human freedom throughout the Old Testament period. So now we turn to look at his work and teaching concerning freedom in the Gospels.
Chapter 3 The Gospels