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Fire in the Bones [Biblical, Heterodox Christianity]: November 2009

I think I had a revelation last night. This was not one of those “I was thinking about this for hours and came to this conclusion” revelations…but more like a “out of nowhere, I cannot even tell you what I was doing or thinking and BAM it hit me” revelations.In each of the synoptic gospels, Jesus says that “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” [Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, and Luke 6:5]What does He mean?As far as I know, commentators always claim that Jesus is referring to His power being above the limitations of the Sabbath, that He is saying that He has the prerogative to determine the bounds of the Sabbath as part of His Lordship.But that makes no sense.

Throughout the gospels we see nary a trace of Jesus breaking Torah in any form. He does things that go against the interpretations of the scribes or the “traditions” of the elders (Matthew15:2-6, Mark 7:3-13], but every indication is that Jesus keeps all aspects of the Torah, just as Paul, Peter, and every other Jew (Christian or otherwise) were to do. (Note Acts 21:20-28)

The action that Jesus is doing (or, rather, that His disciples were doing) was picking grains of wheat from off the ground (and perhaps rubbing them in their hands to free the kernels to eat). This was considered “work” by the Pharisees who accosted Him, but there is certainly nothing in the Torah proscribing this activity.

In other words, Jesus was not doing anything that would have required an alteration of the Torah, nor would doing so have matched every other indication we have about His following the written Torah throughout His life.In the other examples where He is accused of breaking Torah (e.g. Luke 13:14-16, Luke 14:5) , Jesus does not excuse His actions by claiming executive privilege. He simply shows using logic that the Pharisee’s interpretations are wrong. Such disagreements about interpretation were common among Jews of the day.Finally, Jesus asked His followers to imitate Him. He was as far away from being a “do as I say, not as I do” type teacher as you could find. So, suggesting that He had some mandate to live above the Law or modify the Law as He saw fit makes no sense (and would manifestly go against Matthew 5:17-18). In any event, it is His disciples who are breaking the Pharisee’s expectations of Sabbath observance, and we nowhere else see them claim any rights over Sabbath observations.Let’s stop and look at that passage I mentioned in passing: Matthew 5:17-18. Note the odd wording: Jesus came to “fulfill” the Law, which will remain in whole until “all things are accomplished.”That “fulfill” word actually has four different meanings:i) It was a Jewish idiom for “interpret correctly” [which Jesus was about to do in His sermon.]ii) It could also refer to “building up” or “tightening” the Law, which He was also about to do…but I’m not sure that was its intended meaning here in any event.iii) It can refer to Jesus own keeping of the Torah (but that is also not too significant since most Jews saw themselves as keeping the Torah, note Luke 1:6 and Philippians 3:6)iv) It can (finally) refer to Jesus fulfilling the Torah as an unrealized, deep collection of shrouded prophecies meant to show the Jewish people who the Christ was. This is what Paul means in Galatians 3:24 when speaking of the Law as a tutor. Most Christians (and even some Bibles) hopelessly gentilize this passage. Paul is clearly speaking of the Mosaic Law here (See Galatians 3:17)It is this final meaning that no one picked up on until Jesus clarified it [Luke 24:27, Luke 24:44-45], and I think Christ’s reference to the Son of Man being “Lord of the Sabbath” is a similar such allusion where an aspect of the Law is a prophecy to something greater concerning the Christ.I think the same could be said of Jesus use of David as an example. In every case [Matthew 12:5-8, Mark 2:25-28, and Luke 6:2-5], Jesus refers to how David and his companions ate the consecrated bread “that only the priests could eat,” a story that has nothing whatsoever to do with the Sabbath.He didn’t say this to mean that David had rights to break the Torah because he was David. If that were the case, he would have had no guilt for murdering Uriah. No, the point is not that David had special rights, nor even is it that special circumstances can allow someone to abandon Torah (note the other example given in Luke 6:2). Indeed, if Jews could abandon Torah whenever they were in danger of death, there would have been no need for them to be persecuted for their faith! Note also that such a claim would make Matthew 24:20 ludicrous, and in any event the disciples who were picking up grain were not famished or near death, so one could hardly say such “circumstantial” reasoning was the point of Christ’s allusion to David or to the story in general.I think Jesus’ point with David is that He was cluing people into the fact that David was a priest-king (note again the separate example in Luke 6:2) and that was why it was okay for him to eat the bread reserved for priests and to “give it to his companions” [probably an allusion to the Word of God Jesus was giving to His.] Since David was a type of Christ, this really reflects on Jesus as a priest-king [highly relevant to Jews of the day who saw the Messianic Kingdom as coming when both a priest (Elijah) and a (separate) King came forward to rule the realm.But I digress… getting back to “Lord of the Sabbath”I think Jesus is making a prophecy (or an outright-yet-veiled claim to Messiahship) regarding the coming Kingdom. The coming coming Kingdom of God is referred to as “God’s rest” (in particular, see Hebrews 3-4, but also consider Luke 5:17). I think that Jesus’ talk of being Lord of the Sabbath refers to His Kingship over that Kingdom after the Father has given the burden of the crown over to Him.If we see the Sabbath this way, it becomes an age-old promise of the coming Kingdom, yet another veiled aspect of Torah that is both normative and prophetic.