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Mary's Visit to Elizabeth

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Beloved for the way in which it highlights Jesus' care for those on the margins of society and for its care in telling the story of our Savior's life and ministry, the gospel of Luke has always been treasured by the Christian church. Dr. Sproul's expositional study of this inspired account of Jesus looks at the significant events of His life and His teachings while unfolding the meaning of both for us today.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    The Coming of Elijah

  2. devotional

    John the Baptist

  3. article

    The Royal Genealogy of Jesus

The Coming of Elijah

Puritan commentator Matthew Henry remarks that “there is a proneness in good men to expect the crown without the cross.” This is a comment on Matthew 17:1–8 and Peter’s desire to build “tents,” or “tabernacles” (kjv), for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (v. 4). Peter is rebuked for his wish indirectly — the Father silences the apostle when He proclaims His Son’s identity (vv. 5–6). Once more, Peter has missed the whole picture about the Savior. He thinks it is time to celebrate the fullness of the messianic age according to Zechariah 14:16–19, a vision of the Feast of Booths (or, the Feast of Tabernacles; see Lev. 23:33–44) on the Day of the Lord. But as Jesus has said, the full revelation of His glory can come only after the cross (Matt. 16:21–23).

Christ repeats this principle in today’s passage, forbidding His disciples to tell of Jesus’ glory until after His resurrection vindicates His faithful life and suffering death (17:9). Again, He does not want the populace to impose their misguided assumptions upon Him and rise up against Rome. Even the disciples do not yet understand the Messiah’s call to suffer, and so His glory must be concealed lest the empire attempt to silence Jesus before His ministry is finished.

Our Lord’s disciples are confused after Jesus mentions His death, especially since they have just seen Elijah (v. 10). Based on Malachi 4:5–6, first-century Jews looked for Elijah’s return to restore righteousness in Israel and bring reconciliation between God’s people prior to the messianic age. The disciples cannot see how Christ’s death can follow this renewal, for how can the Messiah be killed if He comes during the age of justice inaugurated in Elijah? Jesus explains that they rightly expect Elijah to restore all things (Matt. 17:11). However, the disciples must also understand that Elijah’s restoration will not include all the physical sons of Abraham and therefore not create an environment of universal holiness. An “utter destruction” in Malachi 4:6 falls on the impenitent, implying that some will fail to repent and live accordingly when Elijah comes. As Malachi predicted, the new Elijah was rejected, even executed by the authorities (Matt. 14:1–12). This will set the stage for the Messiah to be likewise killed (17:12–13).

John the Baptist

In our study of the story of Melchizedek, we have deliberately skipped over the fact that some theologians believe this ancient king was the pre-incarnate Jesus. While this is most likely not the case, Melchizedek is still an important figure — a type of Christ, at the very least. His blessing on Abram (Gen. 14:19–20) no doubt changed the patriarch’s life, confirming God’s call upon our father in the faith.

This ought not surprise us. Neither old covenant believers who knew the Messiah in shadows nor new covenant disciples who knew Him while He walked the earth could remain unchanged. For the next ten days we will study some of the direct, life-altering meetings Jesus had with others in history using Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series Face to Face with Jesus as a guide.

One encounter took place with the last prophet before Jesus’ public ministry. When John baptized in the wilderness near the Jordan river, he caused an uproar because he preached a baptism for the remission of sins to Israel (Matt. 3). Before John, only Gentile converts to Judaism underwent a similar rite, because they were regarded as unclean. In baptizing Israelites, John was teaching that the chosen people were unclean, and that their Temple could not cleanse them, thereby scandalizing the priesthood (John 1:19–28).

John repeatedly identified himself as the prophet who would prepare the way for the kingdom of God to appear with a power not previously seen (vv. 19–23). He believed that his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, was the long-awaited king, and he was not afraid to pay homage to God’s Messiah (vv. 24–28).

Though he had come into contact with Jesus while still in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:39–45), John meets Him later at the Jordan to baptize Him and declare the start of His public ministry (John 1:29–34). This encounter affirmed Jesus’ significant role in the drama of redemption, for soon afterwards John told the people that the Christ must increase and that he must decrease (3:30). John’s honor had to recede into the background in light of the greater glory of the Son of David. May we all so acknowledge our resurrected Lord.

The Royal Genealogy of Jesus

T. Desmond Alexander

The five books from Genesis to Deuteronomy form the first section of the Hebrew Bible known as the Torah. Unfortunately, the Hebrew term torah is often misleadingly translated into English as “law.” Torah is better understood as meaning “instruction.” As instruction, the books of Genesis to Deuteronomy provide an essential foundation for understanding all of Scripture. As the opening stages in the grand story of divine redemption, these books set the scene and give direction to all that follows.

The diverse but coherent contents of Genesis to Deuteronomy are linked in a rich variety of ways to Jesus Christ in the New Testament. The four Gospels all associate Jesus’ sacrificial death with Passover, and Paul speaks of Jesus as our Passover sacrifice (1 Cor. 5:7). The author of Hebrews draws heavily from Genesis–Deuteronomy, seeing Jesus, among other things, as a royal priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:6–7:17; see Gen. 14:18; Ps. 110:4). Although these connections and others enrich our appreciation of Jesus, this essay will concentrate on another aspect: the royal dimension. This picks up on the all-important affirmation that Jesus is the Messiah.

In the New Testament, Jesus is frequently called either “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus.” Whereas Jesus is a personal name, the word Christ is a title, meaning “Anointed One.” Christos is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew term mashiach, from which we derive the English title “Messiah.” When the New Testament writers speak of Jesus as “the Anointed One,” they see Him as a king. More than this, they see Him as the legitimate heir to the Davidic throne. For this reason, Matthew’s gospel in particular emphasizes how Jesus is the son of David.

The link between Jesus and the Davidic dynasty lies at the heart of the biblical understanding of Jesus’ messiahship. While this is commonly acknowledged, it is not always appreciated that the importance of David’s dynasty finds its roots in the book of Genesis. What begins in Genesis leads to David, and from David to the Christ. For this reason, Matthew starts his royal genealogy of Jesus with Abraham and not David.

To understand how Genesis anticipates the importance of the Davidic dynasty, we need to observe that the whole book is structured around a unique family line. Through a careful use of genealogies, Genesis traces a remarkable lineage that begins with Adam and ends with the twelve sons of Jacob. Important members of this family line are Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah, all of whom play a significant role in the outworking of God’s purposes. While other siblings are occasionally introduced into the story, they are merely branches in the family tree. The main trunk is what matters, and it eventually leads us beyond Genesis to David and then to Jesus Christ.

The book of Genesis underlines various ideas about this unique family line:

  • its continuation owes much to the intervention of God;
  • its members enjoy the status of firstborn, although they are not always the first to be born;
  • it anticipates the establishment of a royal dynasty; through this family line will come a unique king who will restore the broken relationship between God and humanity.

A distinctive feature of Genesis is the divine provision of children to the barren matriarchs Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel in order to preserve thefamily lineage. While much is made of this in the case of Abraham and Sarah, the same theme is repeated first with Rebekah and then Rachel. Without God’s intervention, the special family line would not exist.

Another unusual feature of Genesis is the number of occasions a younger brother is promoted to the status of firstborn. While this reversal is especially obvious in the case of Esau and Jacob, it also occurs with others: Isaac and Ishmael; Joseph and Reuben; Perez and Zerah; Ephraim and Manasseh. With the non-identical twins Esau and Jacob, the younger twin, Jacob, wants more than anything else the privileges associated with being the firstborn, whereas his older brother, Esau, is willing to sell his birthright for a bowl of stew. Jacob appreciates the importance of the family line. Negative factors account for every case where the son born first is denied firstborn status. This explains why Genesis includes episodes that might otherwise seem unnecessary.

Although it is not immediately obvious, the unique family line in Genesis is closely aligned with royal expectations. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Joseph story where his dreams are interpreted by his brothers as signifying kingship: “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” (Gen. 37:8). By itself, this might not seem significant, but Joseph’s dreams come in the light of a family tradition that has regal expectations running through it. Abraham, who rubbed shoulders with kings (Pharaoh, Melchizedek, Abimelech), was promised by God that kings would come from him (Gen. 17:6). When Isaac blesses Jacob, his words resound with royal hopes: “Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you” (27:29). Later, Jacob blesses Judah using royal language: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” (49:10).

Genesis undoubtedly has a special interest in a unique family line through which God will later establish the Davidic dynasty, leading to Jesus Christ. This raises the question: Why is the existence of a royal line so important to God’s plans? Two related answers may shed light on this question.

First, when God responds to the willful disobedience of Adam and Eve, He states that the offspring of the woman shall overcome the cunning Serpent. Whatever we may make of this talking snake, it is clearly God’s archenemy. As such, it persuades Eve and Adam to betray God. The full tragedy of Adam and Eve’s actions becomes apparent when we realize that God has delegated to them responsibility for ruling over the earth. Given royal authority, their readiness to trust the Serpent is an act of gross betrayal. By obeying a creature rather than the Creator, they make the Serpent ruler of this world, becoming themselves his subjects. In response, God not only punishes the human couple by removing their royal and priestly status, but, in an act of profound grace, promises that the Serpent will eventually be overcome by the offspring of the woman (3:15). After this, the identity of the woman’s offspring is intimately linked to the special family line at the heart of Genesis. Having led astray the divinely appointed royal couple, Genesis fittingly anticipates that the Serpent (elsewhere identified as Satan or the Devil) will be overthrown by a future king who is fully obedient to God.

Second, building on this expectation, the patriarchal stories in Genesis introduce the idea that the nations of the earth will be blessed through Abraham and his offspring. We see this most clearly in Genesis 22:17–18. God swears to Abraham, “And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.” While some interpreters take Abraham’s offspring to refer to the whole nation of Israel, in this quotation the offspring is an individual. From this point on, divine blessing is linked to the “firstborn” descendants of Abraham. The etymological link between firstborn (Hebrew: bekorah) and blessing (berakah) provides an interesting wordplay that is developed most fully in the Jacob-Esau story, where the motifs of firstborn and blessing are important. The theme of blessing continues to play an important part in the Joseph story, with Joseph bringing blessing to many nations, a picture that prefigures the much greater blessing that comes through Jesus Christ.

Genesis gives priority to Joseph as the one designated firstborn by his father, Jacob, and the one associated with royalty. However, following Joseph’s departure to Egypt, Genesis 38 unexpectedly focuses on Judah’s offspring. The chapter concludes with a brief report of twins being born to Tamar, with the younger brother Perez pushing aside his older brother Zerah in order to become the firstborn. From Perez comes the royal line of David (Ruth 4). According to Psalm 78:56–72, the royal line of Joseph was rejected by God due to its sinfulness in the time of Samuel. At this stage, David is appointed by God to continue the family line that begins in Genesis.

While the actual designation Messiah is never used in Genesis, the entire book anticipates that through the offspring of the woman, the Evil One will be defeated and God’s blessing will come to the nations of the earth. All importantly, this divinely promised royal offspring takes us from Abraham to David and on to Jesus Christ.

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