Tuesday, 19 May 2020

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth? Deciphering Meaning Through Layers of Context (Part 5 of 5)

Biblical Typology

Employing tangible symbols of the past to represent analogous yet loftier divine truths is the function of biblical typology. An OT type (Greek túpos, a “figure” or “image”), which is material and temporary, foreshadows a NT antitype (antítupos, “corresponding to”) of much greater spiritual import.1

The Lord Jesus Christ is typified in Adam (Rom. 5:12-19; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45), in Moses (Acts 3:22; 7:37), and in Melchizedek (Heb. 5:5-10). The Passover and the raising of the serpent in the wilderness each prefigures Jesus’ sacrificial death (John 3:14; 12:32-33; 1 Cor. 5:7). The old-covenant-tabernacle ritual corresponds to Christ’s superior new-covenant arrangement (Heb. 9:1-28). The flood of Noah’s day and the Red Sea crossing are analogous to Christian baptism (1 Cor. 10:1-2; 1 Pet. 3:20-21). The Jewish temple is a meager representation of the Lord’s church (1 Cor. 3:16-17; 2 Cor. 6:16), as is the ancient city where the temple stood (Heb. 12:22-23; Rev. 3:12).2 Abraham’s physical descendants foreshadow the omniracial Christian community, the true Israel of God (Rom. 9:6-8; Gal. 3:29; 6:16). The literal “heavens and earth,” the typical word-pair describing humanity’s physical habitat, serves as a figure of a completely “new” subsistence (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1; cf. 1 Cor. 15:42-54; 2 Cor. 5:1-8).3

In Matthew’s record of Christ’s teaching, the prophet Jonah’s ordeal typifies the burial and resurrection of Jesus (12:39-40; 16:4); the receptivity of those to whom Jonah and Solomon preached illustrates how much more Jesus ought to be heard (12:41-42); John the baptizer is the antitype of Elijah (17:10-13). When Jesus quotes the saying, “Blessed are the meek, for ‘they shall inherit the land’” (5:5) – its only occurrence in the NT – this sounds like a physical type of the spiritual antitype that follows, “for your reward is great in heaven …” (v. 12b). However, considering the backdrop of Psalm 37, this blessing is not limited to the future but includes God’s provision, comfort, and peace in the present. The literal land inheritance of Abraham’s biological descendants (Acts 7:2-5, 17, 45; Heb. 11:8) serves as a physical type of the spiritual inheritance of Abraham’s spiritual heirs in Christ, realized in the present (Gal. 3:6-29; Eph. 1:13-14, 18; 5:5), future (Col. 3:24; 1 Pet. 1:4), and forevermore (Heb. 9:15).

The Fulfillment

The promised blessings of Matthew 5:3-10, rather than being withheld for millennia into the future, are most certainly accessible to God’s people in the here and now. For the poor in spirit and the unjustly persecuted, heavenly citizenship is now available.4 Comfort is provided to those who are mourning.5 To be filled with righteousness is assured to all who are eagerly seeking it.6 The merciful obtain mercy.7 Through his revelation God is seen (understood) with purity of heart.8 Peaceable followers of Christ are currently acknowledged as God’s children.9 So what about the meek? 

To interpret the promise of Matt. 5:5b as something unavailable until the distant future in a yet-to-be-established earthly kingdom is to ignore the surrounding context and other contextual layers, thereby missing the point. The spiritual blessings of God’s kingdom are not limited to persons living within the ancient borders of Israel. If a literal “land” (or “earth”) inheritance is meant, surely we would expect it to be reaffirmed elsewhere in the NT. Instead, notwithstanding the Apocalypse’s highly symbolic imagery, we find promises like, “he will inherit life everlasting” (Matt. 19:29); “flesh and blood is not able to inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit incorruptibility” (1 Cor. 15:50); “those who are to inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14); “to an inheritance imperishable, untainted, and enduring, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4).10 The fulfillment of these promises did in fact begin in “the land” – in Jerusalem, all Judea, and Samaria – extending to the ends of the earth and to the end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Col. 1:3-6, 13, 23). 


Our study through multiple layers of context has concentrated on the words of a Hebrew poet, quoted by the messianic Lord, and reiterated by an inspired historian. The first contextual layer is Psalm 37, earthly-focused and directed to Israelites living in the land of promise under the old-covenant system of Moses: a mere shadow of things to come (cf. Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:1). The second contextual layer is Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, wherein attention is redirected to the heavenly and spiritual blessings of God’s approaching kingdom: a time of transitioning from the old and preparing for the new (cf. Matt. 9:16-17; Heb. 8:6-13). The third contextual layer is the Gospel of Matthew, written fairly early in Christ’s new-covenant age to Jewish believers presently living the antitypical substance of these truths in God’s heavenly kingdom come to earth (cf. Eph. 1:3; Col. 1:12-13). The fourth contextual layer is the application of these teachings to our current time and circumstances. 

Blessed are the meek, for ‘they shall inherit the land’” (Matt. 5:5). For ancient Israelites this meant the assurance of God’s favor, provision, security, and hope. For early-1st-century Jews and latter-1st-century Jewish Christians, it had the same connotation. The Lord still expects humility of spirit, emotional sensitivity, meekness, pursuit of righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, peacemaking, and steadfast endurance. The accompanying blessings are still assured to his faithful followers, both now in this time and in the age to come (Matt. 19:29; Mark 10:30; 1 Cor. 3:21-23).

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 G. K. Beale defines typology as “the study of analogical correspondences between persons, events, institutions, and other things within the historical framework of God’s special revelation, which, from a retrospective view, are of a prophetic nature” (“Finding Christ in the Old Testament,” JETS 93.1 [2020]: 29). See also Beale’s Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012): 13-15. In the genre of Hebrew poetry, the language of the psalms is a copy, mirror, or representation of what it imitates. “How well the image represents the reality becomes the mode of valuation, whether the representation is of a transcendent reality or a mundane beauty” (David Petersen and Kent Harold Richards, Interpreting Hebrew Poetry [Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1992]: 10). Accordingly, the historical-religious background of the psalms provides yet another layer of context.
     2 See K. L. Moore, The New Jerusalem: Heaven or the Church?.
     3 See K. L. Moore, New Heavens and a New Earth.
     4 Phil. 3:20; Col. 1:5, 12-13; 3:1-2. There is a rest spoken of that is yet in the future—something promised that remains to be fully realized (Heb. 3:7–4:11). When Jesus journeyed ahead to prepare a place for his disciples (John 14:2-3), he went beyond the “veil” and penetrated the holiest place to dwell in the presence of God (Heb. 6:19-20; 9:12). This is none other than “heaven itself” (Heb. 9:24). The righteous now have the confident expectation of entering the very same place (Heb. 6:18-19; 10:19-20, 34), wherein their names are registered (Heb. 12:23).
     5 2 Cor. 1:3-7; 2:7; 7:6-7, 13; 13:11; Col. 2:2; 1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11; 2 Thess. 2:16-17.
     6 Rom. 1:16-17; 5:17; 2 Cor. 5:21; 9:10; Eph. 4:20-24; 5:8-10; Phil. 1:11; 3:9; Heb. 12:11.
     7 Rom. 9:16, 18; 11:30-32; 2 Cor. 4:1; Phil. 2:27; 1 Tim. 1:13, 16; 1 Pet. 2:10.
     8 John 1:18; 14:7-9; Eph. 1:17-18; Col. 1:9-10; 2:2-3; 1 John 5:20.
     9 Rom. 8:14; Gal. 3:26; 4:6; cf. John 1:12; Rom. 9:8; 12:18; Phil. 2:15; Jas. 3:18; 1 John 3:1, 10.
     10 See also Matt. 25:34; Acts 20:32; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 2 Cor. 5:1-2; Gal. 3:26-29; 5:21; Eph. 1:13-14, 18; 5:5; Col. 3:24; Heb. 6:12; 9:15; 1 Pet. 3:9; Rev. 21:6-7. That Abraham was to be “heir of [the] kósmos [world]” (Rom. 4:13) would contextually be in reference to succeeding generations of faith. See Everett F. Harrison, “Romans,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gæbelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976): 10:50-51.

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