All that open the womb are mine, and every firstling of your cattle born a male, ox or sheep. The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem. And none shall appear before me empty-handed.Exodus 34:19
Isaac was the first born Jew of the original covenant, and thus had to be offered to God. Fortunately he was redeemed by a ram (click the image to see the full version). God will provide for us, though we must trust him.
So too Jesus was the first prophet of the new covenant. We are redeemed by his sacrifice.
Most of Jesus’ teachings and deeds have precedents in the Hebrew scripture. For example, almost 1000 years earlier, Elisha the prophet raised a boy from the dead (2 Kings 4:32). And as Jesus said we are all sinners, so too the Jewish prophets declared every man a schemer:
Everyone deceives his neighbor,Jeremiah 9:5
and no one speaks the truth;
they have taught their tongue to speak lies;
they weary themselves committing iniquity.
Jesus’ arrival as well is consistent with the teachings of the Hebrew prophets:
For to us a child is born,Isaiah 9:6
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Jesus reassures us of his intentions, and that he is not trying to usurp God’s word:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.Matthew 5:17
Something new under the son
However there is one point of doctrine for which scarce precedent can be found: that Jesus is the Son of God. The book of Daniel includes a vague reference to this concept, when Nebuchadnezzar condemns his three Hebrew advisers to death in the Fiery Furnace for refusing to bow down to him. But he is amazed to see them alive, with an additional presence:
“But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”Daniel 3:25
Yet nothing further is made of this observation. Also in Psalms, God speaks to the council of the gods of other nations:
I said, “You are gods,Psalm 82:6
sons of the Most High, all of you;
nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”
The vaunted medieval French Rabbi Rashi misinterpreted this verse to mean that God was speaking to the judges of Israel. Of course this was preposterous in the context, but it made a convenient justification for the infallibility of the kitarchy. Most likely this misconception persisted for millennia.
Nevertheless when Jesus claimed to be the literal son of God using exactly this justification (John 10:34), the Jews were predictably enraged and tried to stone him – before he narrowly escaped. Still today Jews are infuriated by this claim, though Christians too now accuse Jews of ‘blasphemy’ for denying their novel yet sacred doctrine. It is in fact the main theological point of contention between Jews and Christians. Is there any way to resolve it?
An answer is offered in the beatitudes:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.Matthew 5:9
Indeed, peacemakers are children of God. Who could deny this? But then, how could Jesus be the only one? Is he really the only peacemaker?
Yes! Of course, everyone thinks they are, but we are in denial. We all nurture schemes to dominate the world. For most Jews this is either Zionism or socialism. And this is not a novel claim. All the prophets lamented the universality of man’s evil:
The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,Psalm 14:2
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
Who can say, “I have made my heart pure;Proverbs 20:9
I am clean from my sin”?
And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”Genesis 8:21
Everyone is trying to incite strife and war. If we fail, it’s only because the forces of evil are effectively balancing each other out. Christian Zionists advocate policies that instigate war in the Middle East, even as they faithfully preach the gospel of peace and forgiveness. It is quite the conundrum.
As for the difference between a child of God and she who is called that – who can say? And how long with Jews and Christians fight over this nicety?
One of the signs of a false prophet is that they prophecy peace. Jesus is not one of these:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.”Matthew 10:34
He understands we must still go through much more tribulation before we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven and be safe. In fact only after we have peace will we recognize the messiah that led us back. Nevertheless, as the first peacemaker, the firstborn of God, Jesus paid the price that made this crossing possible – if not easy.
Daughter of God
Whoever plans to do evilProverbs 24:8
will be called a schemer.
The devising of folly is sin,
and the scoffer is an abomination to mankind.
We are all sinners, schemers and scoffers. Many Christians recognize this and think the world is irredeemably evil, a lost cause, so they store up their treasure in heaven. But our tradition promises that a peacemaker is quietly toiling to establish paradise right here on earth. And when her work is complete and we all dwell securely in the Garden of Eden, she too shall be called a child of God and no Jew will dare object.