The Salvation of the Jews: Jesus before the cross

jewish_starDuring Jesus’ three-year ministry prior to his crucifixion, he often forgave sins without baptism. Then again, we know from John 4 that Jesus did, for a while, spend time in the Jordan River region baptizing.

(Joh 3:22-24 ESV) After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing.  23 John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized  24 (for John had not yet been put in prison). 

The text doesn’t say why Jesus baptized early in his ministry and then appears to have stopped. After all, there’s no record of his baptizing later in any of the four Gospels. It seems likely that Jesus was symbolically approving the work of John — they were not rivals, and John’s baptism was in preparation for the ministry of Jesus.

It also seems probable that the baptism of Jesus was also a baptism of repentance for forgiveness of sins. If Jesus’ pre-crucifixion baptism had a different purpose than John’s, surely the text would have said so.

If that’s so, then some will be bothered by Jesus forgiving sins pre-Pentecost by baptism. And some will wonder whether there’s a difference between Jesus’ pre-Pentecost baptism and Christian baptism. That is, didn’t both serve to provide salvation?

Well, yes and no. Yes, when the Jews return to God in penitence and humility — as symbolized by baptism — God promised to forgive and restore them to right relationship — but it was right relationship under the covenants then in effect — Abraham/Moses/David. They were not in right relationship under the new covenant of Jesus. After all, that covenant had not yet been given.

To be in right relationship under the Christian covenant requires faith in Jesus as Messiah. And it’s likely that Jesus was not yet revealed as the Messiah this early in his ministry — although John the Baptist seems to have figured this out. We know from the synoptic Gospels that Jesus warned his own followers not to refer to him as the Messiah until much later in his ministry.

(Mat 8:2-4 ESV)  2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”  3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.  4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 

(Mat 16:20 ESV)  20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

(Mat 17:9 ESV) And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

In short, my understanding is that, early in his ministry, Jesus appeared as a great rabbi and prophet, but he avoided being thought of as the Messiah. Hence, when he announced the coming of the Kingdom at the beginning of his ministry, he didn’t yet claim to be the Messiah. Not yet.

Therefore, when he forgave sin, he did so under the covenants then in effect, fulfilling the many promises that God would forgive sin at this time in response to repentance.

But, of course, this resulted in its own problems. If Jesus forgave sins, then he appeared to the authorities to be a blasphemer, since only God could forgive (Matt 9:3, e.g.). But Nathan, a prophet, could announce God’s forgiveness to David.

Jesus seems to have gone out of his way to make clear that he himself had the authority to forgive, that is, that he wasn’t just announcing God’s decision —

(Mat 9:2-8 ESV)  2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”  3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.”  4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?  5 For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?  6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”– he then said to the paralytic– “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”  7 And he rose and went home.  8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. 

N.T. Wright likes to point out how many Jews would have reacted to this —

I have already suggested that, during his Galilean ministry, Jesus acted and spoke as if he was in some sense called to do and be what the Temple was and did. His offer of forgiveness, with no prior condition of Temple-worship or sacrifice, was the equivalent of someone in our world offering as a private individual to issue someone else a passport or a driver’s license. He was undercutting the official system and claiming by implication to be establishing a new one in its place. We have also seen that a good deal of Jesus’ warning about impending judgment was focused on the Temple.

My whole argument so far, in fact, tells strongly in favor of seeing Jesus’ Temple-action as an acted parable of judgment. When he came to Jerusalem, the city was not, so to speak, big enough for the two of them together. The central symbol of the national life was under threat, and unless Israel repented it would fall to the pagans. He believed that Israel’s God was in the process of judging and redeeming his people, not just as one such incident among many but as the climax of Israel’s history.

This judgment would take the form of destruction by Rome. It would not (disagreeing with [E.P.] Sanders) be followed by the rebuilding of a new physical Temple. It would be followed by the establishment of the messianic community focused on Jesus himself that would replace the Temple once and for all.

N. T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 65–66.

Matthew 9:8 says that the people marveled that the power to forgive sin was given “to men.” In other words, they celebrated the fact that someone standing in front of them could forgive sins, rather than having to go to Jerusalem to appear before God. The language surely anticipates the power of the future church to grant forgiveness through evangelism — making the church an extension of the presence of Jesus as occupying God’s Temple on earth.

So we see Jesus forgiving sin both through baptism (most likely) and entirely apart from baptism. The Pharisees and scribes did not question that God could and would forgive sins apart from animal sacrifice. They just didn’t believe that Jesus had authority to announce that forgiveness.

Why did Jesus go around forgiving people? Well, because forgiveness would be a sign of the end of the Exile and the coming of the Kingdom. Because he, as God the Son, was of a nature that could not refuse forgiveness to those approaching him with penitent faith. Because he loved the people and they needed to be forgiven. And because a generous forgiveness, based on faith in Jesus as Messiah, anticipates the Christian age — even though this was not quite Christian forgiveness.

Rather, this is more like the forgiveness David received after his sin with Bathsheba.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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17 Responses to The Salvation of the Jews: Jesus before the cross

  1. rich constant says:

    Jay you’re mixing a metaphor there.
    I think with David and his shin.
    There was a pay back for forgiveness.
    A life taken was There not.
    I would say there was blood for blood. but then why not that’s a closer mixed metaphor than yours

  2. rich constant says:

    Jesus doesn’t become king until he’s on the throne as the Messiah the Risen Messiah.Proving God’s righteousness description In Scripture
    When John says he who is greater than I. of course he is talking about the fulfillment of prophecy to be sure Jesus was the Prophet of God. to be the servant to fulfill .
    but this looks back to Moses and the Prophet that Moses spoke Of that the people were to listen to.
    Jesus is primary focal point, is submitting to the scripture while being subject to the law.
    it’s on the mountain you see the promise through the fulfillment of the scripture.
    the prophets

  3. rich constant says:

    One of the post that I lost.
    number one Jesus was to give glory to the Father. To fulfill Scripture. to show God’s righteousness under faithfulness because of his word through the prophets.
    number to Jesus was under the law tort law.
    number 3 when Jesus is baptized he said permitted to be so this is to Jesus Jesus says it is to fulfill all righteousness. jesus also says in another place why do you call me righteous there is only one that’s righteous and that is the Father in heaven.
    Jesus to me is acknowledging the John is a profit to Israel by baptism through faith in the scriptures being the servant to fulfill all righteousness.
    I would keep to the forefront of my mind in this description.
    That Jesus is the faithful Jew.
    the true servant of God proving God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises and blessings

  4. rich constant says:

    Also it is one thing for Jesus to to acknowledge the faithfulness of a person that is being healed. then going back to the promise of Abraham and that fAith is accredited as righteousness…
    it is quite another thing to be holy as God is holy and be a receptacle of the Holy Spirit thAt given.
    after the CrOss. First7 verses of Romans

  5. rich constant says:

    And that would be acknowledging the face that the person being healed had in the father.

  6. rich constant says:

    and then another thing about the temple that Solomon built also the temp not to Temple the Ark of the Covenant and the sanctuary for the Ark.
    What’s interesting is the inner sanctuary that Solomon built the wings spread across the whole room and the eyes were looking to the curtain where they entered the curtain that was ripped.
    The old sanctuary from what I understand we’re a little bit different they were looking at each other over the top of the lid which meant specifically the kingdom that was under the covenant to me.

  7. rich constant says:

    And that last statement that I the receptacle of the Holy Spirit it’s because of the promise the Jesus gives in the Gospel of John chapter 14 15 16 about the Advocate.
    and receiving it because of the faithfulness of Jesus and that being acknowledged by the Spirit

  8. rich constant says:

    Sorry that I’m falling behind J so I just had to catch up a little bit.

  9. rich constant says:

    Also the sound on the day of Pentecost at the Holy Spirit made when it when it was poured out Fell whatever, they were baptized in or with. spoke in other tongues could go back to reference of why the tongueS we’re given In Genesis. this would be the opposite effect. to build a temple of God. through the word of God’s Christ the king the Prophet the faithful one the word.
    The sound was supposed to be a great sound how about the new creation of the Spirit breaking forth into the old creation of the world or the powers that be or This cosmos.

  10. rich constant says:

    Try to look at the spirit as it progresses through the history that Luke is talking about in John 13 thru 17 you’re not to worry about what you’re supposed to talk about. Is going to bring remembrance everything that Jesus said.
    So the situation dictates the amount of Revelation that the Spirit is .
    This has a lot to do with why the Spirit is called the Spirit of Christ because he speaking about the things and bringing remembrance to the things that Jesus did and said and acknowledging Jesus and his word. giving glory to Jesus and in so doing giving glory to God

  11. rich constant says:

    And of course while I’m thinking at the time of Solomon.
    The land promises had all been fulfilled, and now we start seeing those if things in Deuteronomy 28 and 29 if you do this and if you don’t do this this will happen or this will happen curse and blessings

  12. rich constant says:

    And of course it’s really easy to put the scripture in but it’s kind of difficult for me and I don’t know if anybody reading all the scripture that I put in for that first few posts cuz I know there’s a lot of it but it’s there Contextual, wish it wasn’t so hard for me to write but I’ll get to it.
    hope these words work OK for you thanks bro.
    blessings rich

  13. rich constant says:

    Of course then after the death of Solomon and with his two boys the whole kingdom came unraveled

  14. Price says:

    I like the old Tabernacle imagery.. God “dwelling” among the people… Obviously the Temple was likewise sacred but it doesn’t really seem like He was there as He might have been in the beginning in the time of Jesus.. Surely, He is everywhere but not so obvious as once before.. And yet here we have Emanuel… God with us….showing up and He comes back into the Temple and nobody recognizes the fact.. Perhaps He has hidden it at first until He quotes from Isaiah…But as was always true, God can’t be contained by a building…and He comes to announce a much bigger and more inclusive Temple.. the Kingdom… One entered into with the same faith as before yet without the judgement.. Grace enters into the picture like never before.. John 3:16 comes alive…I think it’s awesome..

  15. Jay Guin says:

    Price wrote,

    Grace enters into the picture like never before.. John 3:16 comes alive…I think it’s awesome..


  16. Richard constant says:

    You know you guys you get enough of Us old dogs around together and will make those young people think you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
    pretty neat Price!!!
    :-)… :-)….
    pretty nice I always seem to learn more when I’m having fun at IT.
    kind of like being a young boy wanting to do anything well did you put your hand to why is that because when you’re young kid the only thing you want to do is play.
    I think we’re just playing in God’s sandbox.

  17. Richard constant says:

    And as a PS
    and I can see the father looking down just like our dads do when we’re having fun good clean fun or our children young fellas having good clean fun messing around playing baseball playing soccer playing by the rules.
    Smiling to himself
    they’re going to rest well tonight.
    peace brothers

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