Christ’s “Munus Triplex” at His Baptism

The Synoptic accounts of Jesus’ baptism evoke powerful Old Testament allusions which confront the reader with ears to hear with Christ’s munus triplex, as prophet, priest, and king. At Jesus’ baptism, the Father declares, “σὺ εἶ ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός ἐν σοὶ εὐδόκησα,” as “καταβῆναι τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον σωματικῷ εἴδει ὡς περιστερὰν ἐπ’ αὐτόν” (Lk. 3:22). (This analysis works with Mark or Matthew as well, but let’s just consider Luke for now.) What does this verse tell us about the identity of the Son, Jesus?

First, we might posit, with Darrell Bock, that the Father’s words evoke Isaiah’s Servant, particularly as imaged in Isaiah 42, and so evokes the Son’s office as prophet.[1] The Servant is the one upon whom God’s spirit rests (Isa 42:1 LXX) while in Isa 41:8, God addresses, “παῖς μου Ιακωβ ὃν…ἠγάπησα.”[2] In particular, the Spirit’s descent “ἐπ᾽ αὐτόν” at Jesus’ baptism is difficult to account for apart from an allusion to Isaiah. This Spirit-anointing also evokes Jesus’ later account of his prophetic vocation as the one sent to announce the “ἐνιαυτὸν κυρίου δεκτὸν”: at the opening of that manifesto of liberation, the prophet declares, “πνεῦμα κυρίου ἐπ᾽ ἐμέ” (Lk 4:18-19 / Isa 61:1-2). Further confirmation that the Father’s words at the baptism ought to be read in terms of Isaiah 42 comes in Lk 9:35, at the Transfiguration, where the Father this time addresses Jesus as “ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἐκλελεγμένος,” which much more clearly mirrors Isaiah 42:1 than does Luke 3:22.[3]

However, Jesus is not only a prophetic Son, but also a priestly Son: the Father’s words cannot be accounted for solely in terms of Isaiah, but equally evoke the Binding of Isaac from Genesis 22. As Leroy Huizenga has brilliantly argued,[4] the Father’s naming Jesus, “ὁ υἱός μου ὁ ἀγαπητός” unmistakably evokes Isaac: in Genesis 22:2 (LXX), God commands Abraham to sacrifice “τὸν υἱόν σου τὸν ἀγαπητόν,” and this phrase occurs nowhere else in Scripture (whether LXX or MT). As Huizenga shows, the intertestamental period saw a flourishing of interpretations of Isaac as a willing martyr.[5] Pairing this reading with Gen 22:16-18[6], in which the trial of the Akedah is made the warrant (ἀνθ᾽ ὧν) for God’s promise of land, descendants, and blessings for all nations,[7] the Akedah can be read as an account of a substitutionary trial undertaken for the world’s salvation.[8]

Finally, the Father’s words to the Son evoke Psalm 2:7 (“υἱός μου εἶ σύ”), and so his office as the world’s true King.[9] In the Psalm, the one named “son” is the “βασιλεὺς” established on Zion (2:6), the “Χριστός” (anointed one) against whom the nations band together (2:2). The Book of Acts takes the Psalm as a paradigm for Jesus’ suffering and vindication: the apostolic Church prays Psalm 2 as a depiction of the warfare carried out by the Jewish and Roman authorities against Jesus, God’s persecuted and vindicated Son (4:25-26), while later in Acts, Paul offers Ps 2:7 as a prophecy of Jesus’ vindication by his Father in the resurrection (13:33).

[1] Darrell Bock. Proclamation from Prophecy and Pattern. JSNT Supplements Series, 12. Sheffield Academic Press: Sheffield, UK, 1987, p. 103.

[2] Is “the Servant” a consistent figure linked across the Book of Isaiah? After all, in Isa 53 the servant is anonymous, in Isaiah 42 he is identified with “Israel” (42:1), and with David in Isaiah 37:35. Fortunately, our thesis does not requires that either Isaiah (or his editors) or Luke conceived of every instance of “servant” in Isaiah as representing a single figure; but the Servant material that Luke uses – Isa 41-42 and Isa 53 – is clearly linked even in Isaiah, most notably by the Servant’s silence (Isa 42:2, Isa 53:7).

[3] Cf. Bock 1987: 103.

[4] Leroy Huizenga. The New Isaac: Tradition and Intertextuality in the Gospel of Matthew. Supplements to Novum Testamentum, 131. Brill: Boston, 2009.

[5] Huizenga compendiously documents inter-testamental readings of Isaac as martyr, as in Judith 8:24-27; Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum 18.5; 4 Maccabees 7:13-14 (p. 93-117).

[6] “καὶ ἐνευλογηθήσονται ἐν τῷ σπέρματί σου πάντα τὰ ἔθνη τῆς γῆς ἀνθ᾽ ὧν ὑπήκουσας τῆς ἐμῆς φωνῆς.”

[7] That such a declarations do not mesh straightforwardly with the seemingly unconditional promise of Gen 12:3, or Abraham’s receipt of “δικαιοσύνην” in Gen 15:6 because “ἐπίστευσεν…τῷ θεῷ,” is an occasion for some dispute in the New Testament. St. James seems to resolve the problem by making Gen 15:6 a prophecy of Abraham’s faithfulness in the Akedah (James 2:21-23). St. Paul seems to have had a rather different solution – describing what that was, would unfortunately require a rather different paper.

[8] This “priestly” reading of Jesus as New Isaac appears elsewhere in the Gospels, notably in the Parable of the Vineyard, which describes the brutal murder of “τὸν υἱόν μου τὸν ἀγαπητόν” (Lk. 20:13), and in Gethesemane, where Jesus is arrested by a crowd “μετὰ μαχαιρῶν καὶ ξύλων” (Lk 22:52): as Huizenga observes, these are exactly the implements Abraham brings to slaughter Isaac – wood for the altar (22:9), and a “sword” for the slaying (22:10, LXX) (250-251).

[9] Cf. Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke: Sacra Pagina Series, Vol. 3. The Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 1991, p. 69. Oddly enough, the Letter to the Hebrews 5:5 also links Ps 2:7 to Jesus’ identity as the Son; but here the link is made on the basis of his priestly work!

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